The niggling question that The Golden Girl doesn’t quite answer, though, is why the officials should bother now. Răducan’s plight, valid as it is, comes 15 years after the events and the documentary arrives on the 20th anniversary of her disqualification. (The film was shot in 2015 and 2016.) Even some of the parties who are sympathetic to her cause state that the statute of limitations for arbitration was ten years and expired in 2010. Răducan doesn’t account for the delay in her fight and the film lacks a sense of urgency when the outcome feels inevitable. Her fight is one of principle.
After putting in the work and being the best in her field, Răducan arguably deserves her glory. One wishes the film were more about the cost of Răducan’s quest for gold, rather than her quest to reclaim the gold she lost. Even a quick glance at Wikipedia reveals a fact that the film omits: Răducan won two other medals in Sydney and remains an Olympic gold medal champion despite her disqualification in the all-around category. This doc portrait is perhaps more for Răducan than for audiences as an undercurrent of egoism goes unchecked. Interviewees that include doctors, Olympics’ officials, and journalists state that the Olympics have wider problems about doping than a case that happened 20 years ago.
The Golden Girl hints at the emotional and psychological tolls of the Olympians’ training with the gymnast’s face-saving interviews. Răducan obviously (and rightly) feels cheated, and observational scenes with her therapist illustrate how the gymnast has spent more than half her life marinating in her frustration over the Sydney Olympics. Similarly, the doc offers archival footage of the Romanian team’s intense training regime in which Răducan’s coaches continually berated the young women sacrificing their adolescence to win gold for their country. Even footage from Răducan’s much-lauded return to Romania shows a nation and a team gaslight a young woman by adorning her with fake gold medals. They tell Răducan that she’s a champion in their hearts, but seemingly do nothing to seek justice and reverse the IOC’s decision. These elements are fascinating material for another film.
Her teammate at the Sydney Games, Simona Amânar, gives the film’s most revealing interview—or “non-interview”—when the directors ask her to revisit the disqualification. Amânar speaks of Răducan as a friend, but completely shuts down when asked to share her feelings about the doping scandal. She, like Răducan, clearly clings to the title, having received the gold and the status of Olympic Champion following her teammate’s disqualification. When the camera fades to black in its interview with Amânar, it speaks volumes about the individual versus collective grandeur of the Olympic Games.
The Golden Girl is available on VOD beginning Sept. 1.