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[OLYMPICS] Mohini Bhardwaj (Gymnist)

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  • madchinaman
    Shaking Up the Routine Bhardwaj, 25, has taken an Olympic road less traveled By Helene Elliott, Times Staff Writer
    Message 1 of 2 , Aug 10, 2004
      Shaking Up the Routine
      Bhardwaj, 25, has taken an Olympic road less traveled
      By Helene Elliott, Times Staff Writer
      http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-olygym9aug09,1,1494704.story
      http://www.nbcolympics.com/athletebios/5023024/detail.html


      -

      Born in Cincinnati to an Indian father and Russian mother — her
      given name means "illusion" in Hindi — Bhardwaj was a rising star
      until her 10th-place finish at the 1996 trials kept her off the
      Atlanta team. She finished third at the 1997 U.S. championships and
      went to the world championships, where she placed fifth in the
      vault. But she gave up the anxiety of elite competition to enroll at
      UCLA, where she was an 11-time All-American and member of two NCAA
      championship teams.

      Mohini's mother is from Russia and her father was born in India. Her
      parents met in Canada.

      -


      Once she decided to return to elite gymnastics and found coaches who
      didn't mind that she couldn't afford to pay them, Mohini Bhardwaj
      instinctively looked at a calendar to plan her training.

      "It was a year to the day to the opening ceremony," she said of the
      Athens Olympics. "Amazing. A lot of stuff has taken place since
      then."

      In those 12 months, the former UCLA standout emerged from gymnastics
      oblivion to win a spot on the U.S. women's team at the Summer Games.
      At 25, an age when most gymnasts are coaching or reminiscing about
      their exploits, Bhardwaj accomplished the impossible in a sport that
      feasts on giggly teenagers with supple spines and pliant natures.

      This onetime rebel, who lived by herself in Houston to train while
      in high school and nearly lost her college scholarship when she put
      socializing before studying, has beaten the system.

      "During my elite career I didn't have much fun," she said. "I felt
      like I was doing it for other people. I discovered a team atmosphere
      and bonding in college, which was nice because I was kind of on my
      own before that.

      "When I was younger, I didn't like to spend time in the gym
      practicing. It wasn't fun. I liked competitions. Having retired for
      a year and not doing it, going to the gym and playing around and
      getting my skills back, I realized I'm fortunate to have healed my
      body and still be able to do these skills."

      She's performing for herself, her ardor apparent in every swing on
      the uneven bars and every twist of her tricky vaults.

      "Mentally, that's what's strong about her. She told me, 'I'll work
      harder than ever before and do more routines,' " said Galina
      Marinova, a two-time Bulgarian Olympian who coaches Bhardwaj at All
      Olympians Gym in Los Angeles and funded her trips to national team
      training camps.

      "She wanted to be in some international meets to try some stuff, but
      she wasn't on the national team and got no support and no chance to
      go. But she stayed positive the whole time."

      Bhardwaj needed that optimism while Marinova and UCLA assistant
      coach Chris Waller guided her up the ladder of qualifying meets and
      back onto the Olympic track. "I hadn't done that since I was 12,"
      she said of the qualifiers. "That was the very beginning point of my
      journey."

      That trip has been eased by the support of Valorie Kondos Field, her
      UCLA coach.

      "I was a little apprehensive, not really knowing what it would take
      for Mohini to compete like she used to compete in college," said
      Kondos Field, who encouraged Bhardwaj to work out at the Bruins' gym.

      "I knew if she could regain that old enthusiasm she could do it. I
      don't think age comes into play with Mo. She's so incredibly
      talented and she's in the best shape of her life."

      Born in Cincinnati to an Indian father and Russian mother — her
      given name means "illusion" in Hindi — Bhardwaj was a rising star
      until her 10th-place finish at the 1996 trials kept her off the
      Atlanta team. She finished third at the 1997 U.S. championships and
      went to the world championships, where she placed fifth in the
      vault. But she gave up the anxiety of elite competition to enroll at
      UCLA, where she was an 11-time All-American and member of two NCAA
      championship teams.

      Comfortable in school, where the NCAA limits practice time to about
      half what most elite gymnasts do — and skill levels are lower — she
      skipped the 2000 Olympic trials. "I was too busy with college and it
      was too hard to go from the collegiate season to elite and then the
      college preseason," she said.

      She petitioned into the 2001 U.S. championships, where she finished
      third in the all-around and won a team bronze medal at the world
      championships. An elbow injury at the 2002 U.S. meet seemed to end
      her career and led her to support herself as a waitress until she
      realized she'd regret it if she skipped these Games too.

      "I didn't expect 100% she would make the Olympic team but I wanted
      to give her the chance to try," Marinova said. "She has all the
      elements. She's very powerful and does a couple of elements
      different than other gymnasts."

      Training full-time, which precluded working, she finished 12th at
      this year's U.S. championships and snared the last berth at the
      Olympic trials in Anaheim. To be invited to the July selection run
      by national team coordinator Martha Karolyi she had to finish in the
      top two or perform well enough to earn an invitation. A solid sixth
      got her summoned to the camp. "After the trials she came over to
      thank me and Chris," Marinova said, "and I told her, 'Every minute I
      spent was worth it.' "

      Although she said she knew where she stood because of her frank,
      open relationship with Karolyi, Bhardwaj cried tears of relief when
      she was named to the team with 26-year-old Annia Hatch and teenagers
      Courtney Kupets, Courtney McCool, Carly Patterson and Terin
      Humphrey. At that moment she became a celebrity, in no small part
      because of her connection to actress Pamela Anderson.

      After learning through a friend that All Olympians was holding a
      raffle to fund Bhardwaj's training, Anderson gave her $20,000 and
      cheered her through the trials. Bombarded with questions about
      Anderson, whose generosity she praises, and unaccustomed to the
      whirlwind, Bhardwaj retreated. "I needed some time to rest and get
      my energy back from all the stress and drama of the past couple of
      months," she said. "I'm back to normal now."

      She's still not sure which events she'll compete in at the Games.
      Vault is certain because she has start values of 9.8 and 9.7 and
      could make the event finals if she hits. She anticipates competing
      on bars and maybe balance beam in the team preliminaries, in which
      each team sends out five gymnasts on each apparatus. She also hopes
      to perform on floor exercise but wouldn't begrudge Hatch that spot.

      "It would be great for her," Bhardwaj said. "To come together as a
      team we need to push each other. We need to put the best people out
      there."

      Somewhere along the way she became a patron saint for gymnasts who
      thought they'd have to hang up their leotards if they weren't
      Olympians by 18. Kondos Field invokes her name while recruiting.
      Messages praising her perseverance pile up at All Olympians and on
      its website.

      For Bhardwaj, it's an unexpected but cherished reward. "It's really
      exciting seeing stuff like that," said Bhardwaj, whose boyfriend,
      law student Stephan Ralescu, will accompany her to Athens. "It feels
      great to have an impact on other people's lives."

      And to know she has lived hers to the fullest.
    • madchinaman
      Shaking Up the Routine Bhardwaj, 25, has taken an Olympic road less traveled By Helene Elliott, Times Staff Writer
      Message 2 of 2 , Aug 10, 2004
        Shaking Up the Routine
        Bhardwaj, 25, has taken an Olympic road less traveled
        By Helene Elliott, Times Staff Writer
        http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-olygym9aug09,1,1494704.story


        -

        Born in Cincinnati to an Indian father and Russian mother — her
        given name means "illusion" in Hindi — Bhardwaj was a rising star
        until her 10th-place finish at the 1996 trials kept her off the
        Atlanta team. She finished third at the 1997 U.S. championships and
        went to the world championships, where she placed fifth in the
        vault. But she gave up the anxiety of elite competition to enroll at
        UCLA, where she was an 11-time All-American and member of two NCAA
        championship teams.

        They met in Canada

        -


        Once she decided to return to elite gymnastics and found coaches who
        didn't mind that she couldn't afford to pay them, Mohini Bhardwaj
        instinctively looked at a calendar to plan her training.

        "It was a year to the day to the opening ceremony," she said of the
        Athens Olympics. "Amazing. A lot of stuff has taken place since
        then."

        In those 12 months, the former UCLA standout emerged from gymnastics
        oblivion to win a spot on the U.S. women's team at the Summer Games.
        At 25, an age when most gymnasts are coaching or reminiscing about
        their exploits, Bhardwaj accomplished the impossible in a sport that
        feasts on giggly teenagers with supple spines and pliant natures.

        This onetime rebel, who lived by herself in Houston to train while
        in high school and nearly lost her college scholarship when she put
        socializing before studying, has beaten the system.

        "During my elite career I didn't have much fun," she said. "I felt
        like I was doing it for other people. I discovered a team atmosphere
        and bonding in college, which was nice because I was kind of on my
        own before that.

        "When I was younger, I didn't like to spend time in the gym
        practicing. It wasn't fun. I liked competitions. Having retired for
        a year and not doing it, going to the gym and playing around and
        getting my skills back, I realized I'm fortunate to have healed my
        body and still be able to do these skills."

        She's performing for herself, her ardor apparent in every swing on
        the uneven bars and every twist of her tricky vaults.

        "Mentally, that's what's strong about her. She told me, 'I'll work
        harder than ever before and do more routines,' " said Galina
        Marinova, a two-time Bulgarian Olympian who coaches Bhardwaj at All
        Olympians Gym in Los Angeles and funded her trips to national team
        training camps.

        "She wanted to be in some international meets to try some stuff, but
        she wasn't on the national team and got no support and no chance to
        go. But she stayed positive the whole time."

        Bhardwaj needed that optimism while Marinova and UCLA assistant
        coach Chris Waller guided her up the ladder of qualifying meets and
        back onto the Olympic track. "I hadn't done that since I was 12,"
        she said of the qualifiers. "That was the very beginning point of my
        journey."

        That trip has been eased by the support of Valorie Kondos Field, her
        UCLA coach.

        "I was a little apprehensive, not really knowing what it would take
        for Mohini to compete like she used to compete in college," said
        Kondos Field, who encouraged Bhardwaj to work out at the Bruins' gym.

        "I knew if she could regain that old enthusiasm she could do it. I
        don't think age comes into play with Mo. She's so incredibly
        talented and she's in the best shape of her life."

        Born in Cincinnati to an Indian father and Russian mother — her
        given name means "illusion" in Hindi — Bhardwaj was a rising star
        until her 10th-place finish at the 1996 trials kept her off the
        Atlanta team. She finished third at the 1997 U.S. championships and
        went to the world championships, where she placed fifth in the
        vault. But she gave up the anxiety of elite competition to enroll at
        UCLA, where she was an 11-time All-American and member of two NCAA
        championship teams.

        Comfortable in school, where the NCAA limits practice time to about
        half what most elite gymnasts do — and skill levels are lower — she
        skipped the 2000 Olympic trials. "I was too busy with college and it
        was too hard to go from the collegiate season to elite and then the
        college preseason," she said.

        She petitioned into the 2001 U.S. championships, where she finished
        third in the all-around and won a team bronze medal at the world
        championships. An elbow injury at the 2002 U.S. meet seemed to end
        her career and led her to support herself as a waitress until she
        realized she'd regret it if she skipped these Games too.

        "I didn't expect 100% she would make the Olympic team but I wanted
        to give her the chance to try," Marinova said. "She has all the
        elements. She's very powerful and does a couple of elements
        different than other gymnasts."

        Training full-time, which precluded working, she finished 12th at
        this year's U.S. championships and snared the last berth at the
        Olympic trials in Anaheim. To be invited to the July selection run
        by national team coordinator Martha Karolyi she had to finish in the
        top two or perform well enough to earn an invitation. A solid sixth
        got her summoned to the camp. "After the trials she came over to
        thank me and Chris," Marinova said, "and I told her, 'Every minute I
        spent was worth it.' "

        Although she said she knew where she stood because of her frank,
        open relationship with Karolyi, Bhardwaj cried tears of relief when
        she was named to the team with 26-year-old Annia Hatch and teenagers
        Courtney Kupets, Courtney McCool, Carly Patterson and Terin
        Humphrey. At that moment she became a celebrity, in no small part
        because of her connection to actress Pamela Anderson.

        After learning through a friend that All Olympians was holding a
        raffle to fund Bhardwaj's training, Anderson gave her $20,000 and
        cheered her through the trials. Bombarded with questions about
        Anderson, whose generosity she praises, and unaccustomed to the
        whirlwind, Bhardwaj retreated. "I needed some time to rest and get
        my energy back from all the stress and drama of the past couple of
        months," she said. "I'm back to normal now."

        She's still not sure which events she'll compete in at the Games.
        Vault is certain because she has start values of 9.8 and 9.7 and
        could make the event finals if she hits. She anticipates competing
        on bars and maybe balance beam in the team preliminaries, in which
        each team sends out five gymnasts on each apparatus. She also hopes
        to perform on floor exercise but wouldn't begrudge Hatch that spot.

        "It would be great for her," Bhardwaj said. "To come together as a
        team we need to push each other. We need to put the best people out
        there."

        Somewhere along the way she became a patron saint for gymnasts who
        thought they'd have to hang up their leotards if they weren't
        Olympians by 18. Kondos Field invokes her name while recruiting.
        Messages praising her perseverance pile up at All Olympians and on
        its website.

        For Bhardwaj, it's an unexpected but cherished reward. "It's really
        exciting seeing stuff like that," said Bhardwaj, whose boyfriend,
        law student Stephan Ralescu, will accompany her to Athens. "It feels
        great to have an impact on other people's lives."

        And to know she has lived hers to the fullest.
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