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UP, UP AND AWAY LIKE NADIA COMANECI 20 YEARS BEFORE THEM, THE DIVAS OF DEVA DWELL IN THEIR SPORT'S RAREST AIR

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[This article consists of photographs--see below.]

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LYNN JOHNSON ROMANIA'S MOST PROMISING FEMALE GYMNASTS, SOME SOYOUNG THAT THEY ARE AIMING AT THE 2004 OLYMPICS, ARE SENT TO LIVE AND TRAIN AT THE GYM IN DEVA [Romanian gymnast observing others in class]

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LYNN JOHNSONTHEY HAVE THE BODIES OF CHILDREN--NO MEMBEROF THE WOMEN'S OLYMPIC TEAM IS OLDER THAN 19--BUT THE CHAFED, CALLOUSED HANDS OF HARDWORKING ADULTS [Hands of Romanian gymnasts]

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LYNN JOHNSON CALISTHENICS ARE A BEAR IN THE DEVA GYM, WHERE THE GIRLS SEEK TO STRENGTHEN THEIR BACK AND ABDOMEN MUSCLES BY DOING UPSIDE-DOWN SIT-UPS

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LYNN JOHNSON GYMNASTICS MAY BE THE MOST IMPORTANT SUBJECT, BUT IT IS NOT THE ONLY ONE STUDIED AT DEVA. ANDREA CACOVEAN, A MEMBER OF THE OLYMPIC TEAM, STUDIES THE HUMAN SKELETON IN BIOLOGY CLASS.

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LYNN JOHNSONTHEN THE GYM BECOMES A SORT OF ANATOMY WORKSHOP AS A TRAINER SEEKS TO INCREASE THE FLEXIBILITY OF OLYMPIAN SIMONA AMANAR'S TOES BY APPLYING 20 POUNDS OF PRESSURE TO HER FEET

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LYNN JOHNSONWITH SIX HOURS OF EACH DAY DEVOTED TO ATHLETIC TRAINING, MOMENTS OF PURE RELAXATION ARE FEW BUT CLEARLY PRECIOUS FOR 19-YEAR-OLD LAVINIA MILOSOVICI (LEFT), ONE OF THE SIX WHO WILL COMPETE ON THE ROMANIAN WOMEN'S TEAM AT THE ATLANTA GAMES [Lavinia Milosovici sitting with arm around fellow gymnast]

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LYNN JOHNSONAWAY FROM THE BALANCE BEAMS AND THE UNEVEN PARALLEL BARS, THESE ATHLETES, WHO SPEND AS LITTLE AS TWO WEEKS A YEAR AT HOME, BECOME LITTLE GIRLS AGAIN, TURNING HANDSTANDS ON THEIR DORMITORY BEDS BEFORE TURNING IN WITH THEIR STUFFED ANIMALS AND THEN BUNDLING UP IN STOCKING CAPS AND GLOVES TO VENTURE OUT INTO THE SUBFREEZING SUNSHINE TO HANG THEIR LAUNDRY [Gymnasts in dormitory room]

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LYNN JOHNSON[See caption above--girls hanging clothes on clothesline outdoors]

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LYNN JOHNSON "THEY GROW AS A FAMILY, LIKE SISTERS," SAYS NADIA COMANECI, WHO ROSE THROUGH THE ROMANIAN SYSTEM AND, AFTER HER OLYMPIC TRIUMPHS IN 1976 AND '80, RAN THE JUNIOR PROGRAM BEFORE DEFECTING TO THE U.S. IN 1989. IS IT ANY WONDER THAT GIRLS WHO, IN SOME CASES, HAVE BEEN TOGETHER SINCE THEY WERE FIVE MOVE AS ONE IN A FLOOR ROUTINE SET TO MUSIC? [Gymnasts standing in line]

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LYNN JOHNSONYEAR AFTER YEAR, THE GIRLS FIT TOGETHER LIKE PIECES OF THIS PUZZLE OF THE 1995 NATIONAL TEAM, WHICH WON THE WORLD TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP LAST OCTOBER [Hands assembling jigsaw puzzle of gymnasts]