Nicoleta Grasu of Romania in action during the women's Discus Throw final (Getty Images) © Copyright
Nicoleta GRASU, Romania (Discus Throw)
Born: September 11, 1971, Secueni, Nemt County, Moldova, Romania
1.76m / 88kg
Coach: Costel Grasu
“I will never stop my career before getting an Olympic medal,” said Nicoleta Grasu almost six months after she finished 12th and last in the women’s Discus Throw final at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Grasu suffered a psychological barrier in the Olympics which she could not explain. “I could not concentrate,” she said. “Even if I’d had 20 more attempts the result would still have been bad.” Nico burst into tears, while embracing her husband and coach.
Also affected by the failure, husband Costel Grasu, who was fourth in the men’s Discus at the 1993 World Championships, in Stuttgart, could not identify the mistake in the long preparation periods, the endless training camps, and all kinds of sacrifices, most notably the less attention given to their son, Stefan, aged six. “Really, I cannot blame myself for anything and from her I could not get any explanation up to now”, said Costel in the charter plane returning home from Beijing.
The shock was overcome faster than even the most optimistic members of Nicoleta’s entourage could imagine. Three weeks after returning from China, she threw almost four metres farther than she had in the Beijing final to record 62.48 and place second in the World Athletics Final, in Stuttgart. While Cuba’s Yarelis Barrios got the better of the Romanian (64.88), Grasu edged Olympic champion Stephanie Brown Trafton, from the United States, into third place (62.23).
An outstanding Olympics has been, for Grasu, too long a bridge to cross. Bad luck has followed her step by step. In her first Olympics, the 1992 Games in Barcelona, aged only 20, she was unable to make the final. After seventh place in Atlanta in 1996 (63.28), at the 2000 Games in Sydney again she did not reach the final. Wanting success too much, she was emotionally overcharged.
In 2003 she interrupted her athletic activity, giving birth to a son, Stefan, which meant that she was not in her best shape for the 2004 Athens Olympics, her sixth place being considered an excellent result. In Beijing the specialists at the Romanian Athletic Federation considered that Grasu had her best chance of an Olympic medal. Therefore, the media’s pressure knew no limit, she could not overcome it, and failed.
Discovered by Emilian Floroiu, her first coach until 1989, Grasu (nee Gradinaru) initially joined the Sport School Club in Roman, a town in Moldova, the region where she was born, located in north-eastern Romania, where throwing enjoys a long tradition. Being ambitious, having a singular endurance to efforts and a strong character, soon Grasu distinguished herself and she was promoted to the national and then the Olympic team.
“Discus throwing is a traditional event in Romania, but when I arrived at Snagov (venue of the main training centre, not far from Bucharest, in a forest on the side of the lake also called Snagov), I realised I was the youngest,” Grasu recalled. “At that time, the stars were Daniela Costian (who later left for Australia) and the dear departed Florenta Craciunescu (who passed away in 2008). People called me “the cat”. I was not too shy, but always joyful and optimistic.”
In 1990, Grasu changed her coach and, until 1999, her preparation was coordinated by Ioan Benga, a specialist who had prepared many top athletes, starting with Argentina Menis. In the meantime, Nicoleta Gradinaru married Costel Grasu (1992) and entered the Sport Club Dinamo in Bucharest.
In fact, 1999 was the year of her full affirmation in the international arena, the time of her personal record – 68.80 (at Poiana Brasov, August 7th), together with her first World Championships medal, a bronze in Sevilla (65.35). “Costel was an enormous help, staying close to me,” she said after the first event with her new coach. “The manner in which he encouraged me, the directives I got from the stands.” Since then they have been together, despite the fact that sometimes Costel, overcome by the wife’s emotions, could not mobilise her as much as he wanted.
Thanks to the competition in Spain, a singular friendship also started, one that is still in force, with her main competitor, Franka Dietzsch, from Germany. The same occurred with some of the most famous Romanian athletes, like Lidia Simon, 2001 World marathon champion, and Gabriela Szabo, the 2000 Olympic 5000m champion among many other achievements.
It was a glorious period for Romanian athletics, Szabo being the star, and with outstanding results in the World and Olympic contests for Simon, Mihaela Melinte (Hammer Throw), Violeta Beclea Szekely (1500/3000m), Monica Iagar, Oana Pantelimon (High Jump), Ionela Tarlea (200/400m Hurdles) and Marian Oprea (Triple Jump).
“I think for this reason I was more relaxed in the big events,” Grasu said. “The responsibility of medals was not only on my shoulders. I could concentrate better, no being over-pressed. I could, for instance, keep under control the closing stage of my throwing, using my right hip and I was not obsessed by the net exit width.”
In the 2001 World Championships, in Edmonton, Grasu (66.24) repeated her third position from Sevilla but later, as the Russian athlete, Natalia Sadova, was suspended, she was promoted to silver. Six years later, in Osaka, history would repeat itself when her fourth place would be changed into third place. In both 2000 and 2001, as in 1999, Grasu threw over 68 metres (68.70 at the 2000 National Spring Championships, in Bucharest, and 68.31 in Athens in 2001).
Throwing 54.90 in 2002, Grasu interrupted her career in 2003 to give birth. “I crossed the 30 years threshold and the biological clock was ticking stronger,” she said. “Competition is my life, but for a woman the family is a priority and a child coming to this world represents a fulfilled existence. Furthermore, most of my colleagues returned to competition stronger after having a child.”
Grasu resumed the training ritual in 2004, with a preparation period at Slanic Prahova, in a salt mine at 200m depth, in a magic place where the Grasu family decided to build a house. She trained also in Snagov, Poiana Brasov (a famous tourist centre) or in Izmir and Antalya (Turkey). She was returning, slowly but surely, to the front page of the big international meetings so, after the sixth place in Athens, she was fifth in the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki (62.05), setting her seasonal best.
The following year, brought more progress, as Grasu threw 65.21. In 2007, in Osaka, with terrible heat and humidity, she placed fourth (63.40) later upgraded to third. She received this bronze medal during the 2009 World Championships in Berlin.
In the 12th World Championships, Grasu passed from ecstasy to agony and vice versa. After a relatively easy entry into the final, all the factors were overturned in the last act of the competition. The weather changed too, a storm interrupting the competition. Delayed for more than an hour, the protagonists of the show protected themselves against the bad weather, staying in a tent, losing their initial warmth, patience and concentration.
At the second attempt, Grasu comfortably took the lead with 65.20, her best of the season. But, in the fifth round, Dani Samuel, from Australia, threw 65.44, despite starting as an outsider. Then the last attempt of Yarelis Barrios was measured at 65.31 to earn the silver medal.
“In sport it would be better not to make the Gods angry,” Grasu said. “The most important thing is that I got a medal.” It was the only one that Romania managed in the entire World Championship. “I felt closer to the top of world top than ever before,” Grasu added, embracing the people who encouraged her during the contest: Costel Grasu, Dan Serafim (Federal Coach for throwing events), Sorin Matei, President of the Romanian Athletic Federation, and Gabriela Szabo (now Vice President of the Romanian Athletic Federation) and her husband, Zsolt Gyongyossy (Federal Coach for long distance races).
On September 13, Grasu finished her season in the fourth place (61.57) at the World Athletics Final, in Thessaloniki, and the Romanian Athletic Federation nominated her as “Best athlete of 2009” (for the third time, after 2006, 2007).
Grasu’s first international competition in 2010 took place in Arles, on 20 March, at the European Cup Winter Throwing, where Nicoleta was in third place, with 59.92. On 19 June, at the Ferenc Puskas Stadium, in Budapest, which hosted the European Team Championships, First League, Nicoleta threw 63.05 in the second attempt and she won. At the European Championships in Barcelona, Grasu was the leading with 63.48, but at the sixth round, Sandra Perkovic made a better throw, 64.67, and Nicoleta took second place.
In this season, Nicoleta Grasu was competed also in the Diamond League with these results: Doha (14 May) 61,63, fifth; Oslo (4 June) 60.86, fifth; Paris (16 July) 63.78 (SB), second; London (13 August) 61.78, third and Brussels (27 August) 61.68, fifth.
1985: 36.02; 1986: 43.56; 1987: 50.82; 1988: 51.06; 1989: 52.54; 1990: 56.02; 1991: 59.90; 1992: 65.66; 1993: 65.16; 1994: 64.40; 1995: 64.62; 1996: 65.26; 1997: 64.68; 1998 67.80; 1999: 68.80; 2000: 68.70; 2001: 68.31; 2002: 64.90; 2003: -; 2004: 64.92; 2005: 64.89; 2006: 65.21; 2007: 65.60; 2008: 66.51; 2009: 65.20; 2010: 63,78.
1992 dnq Olympic Games
1993 7th World Championships
1995 dnq World Championships
1996 7th Olympic Games
1997 10th World Championships
1998 3rd Golden League/Grand Prix Final
1998 2nd World Cup
1999 3rd World Championships
2000 dnq Olympic Games
2001 2nd World Championships
2004 6th Olympic Games
2005 5th World Championships
2006 3rd European Championships
2006 2nd World Athletics Final
2007 3rd World Championships
2007 3rd World Athletics Final
2008 12th Olympic Games
2008 2nd World Athletics Final
2009 3rd World Championships
2010 2nd European Championships
Prepared by Cristina Vladu for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2010