Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tatiana Grigorieva is revelling in Gladiators role,21985,23511250-5006022,00.html

WHEN Olympian pole vaulter Tatiana Grigorieva was offered the chance to compete in this season's Gladiators, she did what came naturally and jumped at it.

The theme music is blaring, biceps are bulging, cameras are rolling.

It's game time for Gladiators.

Former Olympic pole vaulter Tatiana Grigorieva is accustomed to the energy of the crowd, the expectation, the excitement of competition. And it has little to do with her own stellar sporting career.

‘‘I remember this show Gladiators from years ago, back when I was living in Russia,'' she says.

‘‘I can't remember whether it was the American or British version, but I was very impressed by it. I wanted to be there. I wanted to be one of the challengers.''

‘‘In terms of competition, I was very well prepared for it. But it was so physically and mentally challenging,'' she says.

‘‘I was in boot camp for 3 1/2 weeks and had to learn new skills such as tackling and wrestling.''
There is a lot of expectation surrounding this incarnation of Gladiators. The first version, which ran on Seven from 1995-97, was a ratings hit.

There have been some changes -- production has shifted from Brisbane to Sydney -- but the premise remains the same.

Essentially, it involves super-fit male and female challengers competing against the show's own supreme machines, the Gladiators.

The ultimate prize for the male and female winners is a share of $100,000 and a Subaru Forester each.

Fittingly, Grigorieva has taken on the persona of Olympia for the show.

Her teammates include Amazon, Angel, Bionica, Destiny, Nitro and Viper. On the male side are Hunter, Nomad, Outlaw, Scar, Tank, Thunder and Kouta (former AFL star and Dancing with the Stars contestant Anthony Koutoufides).

The original show was hosted by Aaron Pedersen and Kimberley Joseph, with Mike Hammond later taking Pedersen's spot.

This time, Dancing with the Stars winner Tom Williams and former McLeod's Daughters star Zoe Naylor front the show. The referee is retired National Rugby League official Bill Harrigan.

During filming, Williams seems composed, but he later reveals he was battling acute nerves.

Williams is no stranger to the feeling - it was something he dealt with as a contestant on Dancing. This time the nerves are far worse.

‘‘With Dancing, it was 1 1/2 minutes on stage and then you were backstage before you knew it,'' Williams says.

‘‘That hardly prepares you for standing in front of a live audience for hours on end.''

Standing backstage with co-host Naylor, panic began to set in.

‘‘We'd be ready to go and I'd feel like I was going to have a nervous breakdown,'' he says.

‘‘I'd say to Zoe, ‘I feel a bit crook, can we postpone this?' And she'd be like, ‘Dude, everyone is ready for us'.''

Williams understands why viewers loved the show the first time and why they are into it again. The first episode of the new season smashed its opposition in the ratings, attracting 1.8 million viewers.

‘‘It's total escapism. It's very easy for viewers to sit down and watch,'' Williams says.

‘‘Everybody likes a bit of good old-fashioned punch-on.''

Each show takes challengers through four gladiator games to test their physical and mental strength.

The games range from the swinging Hang Tough to the tackle-heavy The Gauntlet and Pyramid, and the one-on-one battle of Duel.

And there will be three new games this time -- Pendulum, Vertigo and Sumo Ball.

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