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GYMNAST’S TREK TO FREEDOM WAS MUDDY, DANGEROUS

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Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci says she fled for the West without saying goodbye to her parents, and began her journey with a cold, six-hour hike to Hungary during which she risked arrest or worse.

The Olympic champion has kept out of public sight since arriving Friday in New York City and holding a brief news conference.An account of her escape to Hungary was published in a London newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, which reportedly paid Comaneci for the story.

Comaneci endured a muddy, nighttime trek through country terrain before reaching the Romanian border with Hungary, she said.

"I could not bring anything else with me, not even my precious gold medals or a photograph of my family," she was quoted as saying.

She said she left without saying farewell to her parents.

"I could tell no one I was escaping," she said. "I even had to lie to my brother. I was frightened, of course I was. I was scared of being picked up by the Romanian authorities."

The Mail said it interviewed Comaneci, 28, in New York on Saturday night. Monday's editions of USA Today quoted the Mail reporter as saying Comaneci was paid for the interview. Patti Auer, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Gymnastics Federation, said officials of the organization had flown to New York to speak with Comaneci but could not contact her.

Auer said the federation wanted to set up a meeting between Comaneci and her former coach, Bela Karolyi.

In the newspaper interview, Comaneci said she and a friend, Konstantin Panit, left her parents' home in Bucharest in a rented car Nov. 26 and headed for the town of Timisoara near the Hungarian border.

Six other friends also had crowded into the car, and Panit dropped them off 10 miles from the Hungarian border at about midnight, Comaneci was quoted as saying.

"We were stumbling and often crawling through water and ice," Comaneci said.

"We didn't even think what would happen if we were caught alive. It almost certainly would have meant going to prison in Romania," she said.