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INTERVIEW/Olympic Games 2020: Mihai Covaliu - I am convinced that in Tokyo we will stop decline in Olympic medals

Inquam Photos / Octav Ganea
Inquam Mihai Covaliu

Chairman of the Romanian Olympic and Sports Committee (COSR) Mihai Covaliu tells in an interview that he is convinced Romanian athletes will stop in Tokyo the decline in the tally of Olympic medals that started in Sydney 2000.

He says that in order to bring joy to Romanians, COSR needs the support of the government and its partners.

Covaliu regrets the absence of Simona Halep from this edition of the Olympic Games, saying that the absence means Romania loses an Olympic medal: "I am very sorry that Simona was not physically fit to be in Tokyo. I can say that we have thus lost a medal. We relied on her."

A 2000 Olympic champion and three-time Olympic athlete, Covaliu considers unacceptable the refusal of Romanian tennis players Sorana Cirstea, Irina Begu and Patricia Tig to participate in the Olympic Games in Tokyo, although their WTA rankings would have allowed them to do so.

The COSR official says that the Romanian athletes had excellent training conditions under the Samurai programmme run by the Olympic Committee.

Covaliu expects a surprise from the athletes who will represent Romania for the first time in 3x3 basketball and triathlon, about whom he says that they are very ambitious in terms of winning Olympic medals.

AGERPRES: Since Sydney 2000, Romania's Olympic medal tally has been steadily declining from 26 to only 4 in Rio. Are you afraid that this setback will continue in Tokyo?

Mihai Covaliu: I am convinced that in Tokyo we will perform much better. I know how much I worked with my colleagues at COSR to stop this decline. From now on we will grow. We have very clearly established what needs to be done. But we can't be alone. We need the support of the government and our partners. We represent Romania at the highest level. We want to win medals, to bring joy to all Romanians after this very difficult period. I am convinced we can.

AGERPRES: In Tokyo, Romania will compete for the first time in two disciplines: 3x3 basketball and triathlon. Can these two sports spring a surprise and get team Romania to the podium?

Mihai Covaliu: It will be very difficult, but not impossible, as was qualifying for the Olympics. No one believed except us. I supported these two projects and we succeeded. I hope we succeed in Tokyo as well. I trust these wonderful girls and Felix Duchampt. I know they really wanted to get here, and I know they can do even more.

AGERPRES: In 2017, COSR started the Samurai programme, does it show any results? I am referring to qualification, because under this programme athletes who failed to qualify also received cash incentives.

Mihai Covaliu: The programme is the most important for these Olympic Games. Here we will see the results. Those who left the programme did not manage to keep up, they did not have constancy, and it is normal that they left the program. It is a flexible, results-oriented programme involving winners of place one to six in world championships. You have to have value, consistency, to confirm every year that you can be among the top six athletes in the world. It's not easy. I am very curious to see how many of the 33 samurai will win medals. They had all the conditions to qualify and get in the best shape for Tokyo.

AGERPRES: Simona Halep was among Romania's great hopes for the Olympic Games, at one time 2-3 tennis medals in Tokyo. How much will her absence matter?

Mihai Covaliu: I am very sorry that Simona was not physically fit to be in Tokyo. I can say that we have lost a medal. We relied on her. The same is true about Horia Tecau. They formed a mixed double of great value. They could have fought for medals, they had the necessary value. I am convinced that they too are suffering because they cannot go to the Olympic Games. But 2024 is not that far away. The new Olympic cycle has already begun.

AGERPRES: In the end, Mihaela Buzarnescu will be the only Romanian tennis player to compete in the women's singles. How do you explain the refusal of the tennis girls, not as chairman of COSR, but as an Olympic champion and a three-time Olympic athlete?

Mihai Covaliu: We have three players competing in tennis at these Olympic Games: women's doubles, Monica Niculescu - Raluca Olaru, and Mihaela Buzarnescu. I think they will fight to somehow improve the picture of the Romanian Tennis Federation at these Olympic Games. Mihaela Buzarnescu caught the last berth in Tokyo and you know how it usually happens, the late comer has the ambition to prove that she deserves to be there. We don't know her shape, her motivation, if there is zero pressure... At the Olympics, all the charts, all the rankings can be overturned. So let's watch carefully what will happen.

AGERPRES: The Minister of Youth and Sports is awaiting an assessment from COSR of exactly how much it spent on the tennis players who now refused to participate. Do the players have to return the money they received, what exactly is the situation?

Mihai Covaliu: As I said, when we were announced by the Romanian Tennis Federation that the first four female players do not compete in the Olympics, although they were qualified, we said we would analyse all aspects of the matter. Of course, after the Olympics, we are now focusing on those who enter the competition in a few days. I can understand that you are injured and you can't compete, but not wanting to take part in the biggest competition on earth, to represent your country, especially after this extremely difficult period that we all went through, is unacceptable.

AGERPRES: Romanian football returns to the Olympic Games after 57 years, what chances does the national team have to win medals in Tokyo?

Mihai Covaliu: This qualification is something extraordinary, already these players have gone down in history, they will always be there among the Olympians. As for the outcome, I know that they will give their all on the turf, I know that they are not afraid of any opponent, and Mirel Radoi will put together the most efficient team. May God enlighten his mind and soul! Everything is possible here and now. He doesn't have to wait for another opportunity. All football fans will encourage them. We are not favorites and that can become an advantage. There is no pressure, so go Romania!

Team Romania for the Olympic Games in Tokyo (July 23-August 8) comprises 101 athletes, 46 female and 55 male athletes.

Romania will compete in swimming, athletics, rowing, football, artistic gymnastics, 3x3 women's basketball, cycling, wrestling, shooting, canoeing, table tennis, boxing, fencing, triathlon, judo, archery and tennis.

The team will also include nine substitutes and no less than 40 coaches.

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