Not all younger readers may know the story of Andreea Raducan; I certainly didn’t. But millennials and Gen Z kids might relate more than the older generations to the story of this child athlete pushed beyond most humans’ endurance. Director Denisa Morariu–Tamas creates a psychological portrait of a public controversy. (GPG: 3.5/5)
Review by Contributing Editor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto
The opening shots of The Golden Girl focus on the intensity of gymnastics as a sport, setting the stage for the investigation of how Olympic athlete Andreea Raducan has been affected by the sport that defined her life until the Sydney Olympics. Decades after she was disqualified from her gold medal due to failing a drug test, Raducan is working to clear her name by arguing that the circumstances and Olympic rules invalidate the results of the test. Raducan may not find conclusive answers, but she does ask questions about her past that show why she so badly needs this catharsis.
It is hard for me as a modern viewer to know what to think about the actual issue discussed in this film. Raducan’s team always maintained that they had given her two pills of cold medicine, which was sufficient for the banned substance pseudoephedrine to show up in her tests. However, no exonerating proof is offered by the film; the filmmaker seems to rely on building up a portrait of Raducan herself to make the audience trust her testimony. However, the testimony of the then-child athlete isn’t so convincing, since she was supposedly given the pseudoepinephrine without her knowledge.
However, the issue of whether or not Raducan was drugged is secondary to the sympathy most viewers will have when they see the footage of the training camp Raducan largely grew up in. The video of the camp was taken by Raducan’s coaching team, and features their verbal abuse over footage of Raducan and her fellow child gymnasts performing extreme gymnastics at a young age, while following extremely strict physical regimens. Her mother testifies that during training Raducan admitted to eating only an apple or a cup of tea in a day when she wanted to lose weight. Perhaps the most illustrative detail, though, is that when recalling the experience Raducan refers to the other children being trained at the camp as her “colleagues,” rather than her friends, classmates, etc. She started training at the camp when she was thirteen.
The footage of Raducan’s training makes it easy to sympathize with her, but it also makes it easy to believe that the people training her would have been willing to drug her to get the results they wanted. The inconsistencies in the testing process, and certain questionable memories and absence thereof on Raducan’s part, make the situation even more suspicious. Further, the commentary from those involved after the fact supports the idea that Raducan would have been trained to follow what her coaches asked of her, without question. It also illuminates how Raducan must have felt when she was disqualified for the medal she had spent her whole childhood and adolescence working toward.
The true subject of The Golden Girl is, as the title suggests, the story of Raducan putting together the pieces of this traumatic event as an adult. Like many kids who are gifted or talented in some way, Raducan was put under huge amounts of pressure. The adults in her life are highly ambiguous figures for her emotionally because the lengths they went to in pushing her to perform are mingled with the fact that these trainers were closer to her in her formative years than her own parents. We even follow Raducan into her therapy appointments to see how she is struggling to unpack what happened to her–she is often in denial of the true extent of the abuse she suffered, and the stresses she was under.
Raducan spends much of the movie going to the people involved in the decision at the Sydney Olympics where she was disqualified from competing, as well as the people who trained her in order to get that far. Many speak in her favor, creating more and more of a case to show Raducan in a more exonerated light. However, considering that the film is all being held together by Raducan herself, the methods of the film might be lacking in certain ways. After all, if the main interview subject of your film is the person who may or may not be guilty, if the whole film would fall apart without the key footage of your primary interview subject, perhaps you as the director will be more inclined to tell the parts of the story that support her side of the story.
Nevertheless, Raducan’s story is touching since she so clearly knows just as little of the truth as we do. Like many of us, Raducan is trying to piece together what happened in her childhood in order to move forward as an adult. So few of us have gotten the closure we seek, so we can certainly empathize with Raducan in pursuing it.
The Golden Girl is available on all major VOD platforms (Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Cable VOD and Vimeo) starting September 1st!
Does Golden Girl pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
Since it’s a documentary Golden Girl cannot be said to pass the Bechdel-Wallace test. After all, only one person tends to be talking at a time, so two women cannot talk to each other. Further, the interviewees aren’t characters so they can’t have or not have names. However, the doc is focused on a woman, namely Raducan, so the film can be said to focus on women.
Top Photo: Andreea as a little girl in the Olympics.
Middle Photo: Andreea watching young gymnasts compete decades later.
Bottom Photo: Andreea tries out the balance beam in the present day.
Photo Credit: Denisa Morariu