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This two time European Jr. Champion, member of Romanian Olympics  and World team. She's regarded as Romanian's future hope, she's the one who's chosen to carry the Romanian flag, but now she is not able to continue her gymnastic career...

Friday October 31 10:18 AM EDT

Marinescu sidelined by back problem

By Radu Timofte

BUCHAREST, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Romanian world champion Alexandra Marinescu's future in gymnastics is threatened by a major back problem.

``Marinescu is suffering from progressive scoliosis and will be sidelined for at least three months. But this is not a direct consequence of her gymnastic activities,'' national team coach Octavian Belu said.

Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. When it occurs in gymnasts it is generally believed to be caused by repeated heavy landings after vaulting events, floor exercises and asymmetric bars.

``She will be allowed to compete again only after a medical commission gives the green light,'' Belu said.

Marinescu, 16, won a team gold medal at the world championships in Lausanne in September.

In recent years international officials have accused gymnastics coaches in Romania, Russia, Ukraine and China of starting girls in the sport too young and subjecting them to excessively long hours or rigorous training.

They have cited evidence of back injuries and increased cases of anorexia and other dieting disorders.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) increased from 15 to 16 the minimum age of performers in Olympic and world competition from this year. It has suggested a further increase to 18 may be possible for the 1999 world championships.

Belu, who has coached Romania's top women competitors for 10 years, said the FIG age restriction was wrong.

``It is true some young gymnasts are suffering from this sort of disease because their backs are subject to huge pressure on landing after a vault, for instance,'' he said.

``But the FIG was wrong to raise the lower age limit while at the same time making the exercises more difficult. Physiological changes, sexual development and the growing sense of risk are far greater problems for competitors.''

It has been confirmed that Marinescu can no longer continue gymnastic and had desided to retire. SIGH... We'll miss you Alex!(98-04-05)