In 2000, the 16-year-old Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan was stripped of an Olympic gold medal when she failed a doping test — she’d been given cold medicine that contained pseudoephedrine, a banned substance. Though it was later accepted that her unintentional violation had granted her no advantage, her title was never reinstated.
“What’s the purpose of all that hard work if only the big shots matter?,” Raducan says in “The Golden Girl.” Directed by Adrian Robe and Denisa Morariu-Tamas, the film documents her quixotic attempts to reclaim her medal 15 years after she won it in the individual all-around event.
Raducan, now a well-known sports announcer and journalist, is a telegenic protagonist, but her journey in the film feels oddly anticlimactic. Most of the officials she talks to insist that it’s pointless to try to persuade the International Olympic Committee to reverse a decision. An antidoping specialist reinforces the reality: Competitive sports are governed by imperfect rules and random chance. Raducan’s loss-by-technicality challenges the very possibility of a “fair” victory — and so it makes her quest for redemption feel nominal and futile.
But “The Golden Girl” digs into these systemic questions with diligence. Threaded throughout the film are her exchanges with a psychiatrist who, employing a sometimes bizarre combativeness, asks her to confront the long-term effects of the punishing training regimen (shown here in candid archival clips) that she and her peers underwent as pubescent girls. When she fondly remembers being showered with plastic medals in a televised ceremony upon her return to Romania, he considers the damage that such inflated nationalistic glory could do to a disoriented teenager. Deftly, the film shifts focus from Raducan’s disqualification to the entrenched injustices of Olympic sports, with their outsized pressures and brittle illusions of meritocracy.