Last year, when the Romanian team was in tears after finishing just outside of the podium, fans from all over the world thought that the hardest year for them was already over. After all, during the following year Junior European medalists Laura Jurca and Andreea Iridon would be seniors, Diana Bulimar would come back from her injury while the youngest members of the team would be stronger and more experienced. However, it turned out that this prediction was rather optimistic. Iridon and Jurca turned seniors but they weren’t able to upgrade their routines, Bulimar returned to competition but then she got injured again and promising young athletes like Stanila, Tudorache and Munteanu ended up struggling with motivation. On top of that, the leader of the team, Larisa Iordache suffered from ankle pain and was out for the first half of the season. Without their star, Romania had a very disappointing European championships, winning only one medal. They were more successful at the European Games, where Andreea Iridon won two medals for the team, but even there, they didn’t manage to even challenge for the podium during team finals and they have plenty of rough moments. Thankfully, Larisa is now healthy and after winning the gold medal at the Novara Cup, the Romanians are hoping to prove that they still are one of the strongest gymnastics countries in the world. They will be represented by European champion and world and Olympic medalist Larisa Iordache, Olympic and European medalist Diana Bulimar, Junior European medalist and YOG competitor, Laura Jurca, Junior European and European Games medalist Andreea Iridon, European Games finalist and world team member Silvia Zarzu and world team member Ana Maria Ocolisan. The alternate of the team is European champion Andreea Munteanu, who is apparently having a hard time staying motivated and hasn’t trained as much as one would expect during the last couple of months. Notably absent from the team is 5 times Olympic medalist Catalina Ponor, who made an impressive comeback at the friendly meet against France but then suffered from an injury. It’s weird to think that the absence of an athlete who hasn’t even competed in front of an audience for about three years could be crucial for a team, but this really is the case right now.
During the year, we had a glimpse of how Romanian gymnastics would look like without Larisa Iordache and we certainly did not like what we saw. Right now, she is not just the country’s top gymnast, she is the glue that keeps the team from falling apart. With Larisa, Romania is one of the four strongest countries in the world. Without her, they would struggle to even make it to team finals and in that way, she is much more valuable than Simone Biles it to USA or Aliya Mustafina to Russia. After having problems with her ankle for months, Larisa returned to competition at the friendly meet against France, where she won the All Around, the vault, the uneven bars and the floor exercise titles. After that, she dominated the Romanian Nationals, winning gold on every event besides vault and then she was even more successful at the Novara Cup where she won every single gold medal, including the team, the All Around and all four event finals. Despite her injury, Larisa seems to be in fantastic shape and she has even added a couple of minor upgrades to her routines. She is one of the top contenders for the All Around, the balance beam and the floor exercise podiums and her bars have improved so much that if there wasn’t so much depth this year, she could probably grab one of the last spots in the event finals.
Her Olympic teammate, Diana Bulimar, is set to return to the world championships for the first time since 2011. Back then, Diana was a first year senior and she didn’t even compete during team finals after a disastrous performance at qualifications. That means that Diana, who is a two times European champion and an Olympic medalist, has never actually competed at a worlds finals. After being Romania’s solid team player at the Olympics, Bulimar was ready to step out of her teammates shadow and become one of the leaders of the team. She did an excellent job at the 2013 European championships but she got injured before she could even go to worlds. She returned to competition next year, helping Romania win the team title at the 2014 Europeans but then, when it was time for worlds she was once again hurt. People assumed that she would miss this year’s worlds too after she announced she was having surgery during the summer, but she somehow managed to recover in time to compete. I have to admit that after seeing Diana suffering from knee injuries over and over again and under-performing at the European championships this year, I thought that her career was coming to an end but I couldn’t possibly be happier that she proved me wrong. During this year, she has connected an impressive amount of medals, including a silver and a bronze at the Doha World Cup, the national All Around bronze and balance beam silver and the Novara Cup balance beam bronze. She is hoping to be Romania’s second All Arounder and to help her team earn a medal.
Then, we have 2014 worlds team member Ana Maria Ocolisan, who has also missed some training due to injuries this year. The first competition of 2015 for her was the four Nations Trophy in Torino, where she placed 10th All Around after a shaky performance. She looked much stronger at the Romania vs France friendly meet, winning the gold medal on vault and the bronze on the uneven bars. while also placing second in the All Around. After this amazing success it was clear that Ana would be one of the front runners for her country’s worlds team. At Romanian nationals, she once again placed second in the All Around and third on balance beam, but had a fall during the bars finals. She fell on the same event at the Novara Cup, placing only 9th in the All Around. Ocolisan is expected to contribute on vault and bars and she also has a chance to be Romania’s second All Arounder if she hits during qualifications.
Her Nanning teammate, Silvia Zarzu has definitely had some fantastic achievements and some major disappointments during the year. She didn’t really stand out at the four nations Trophy but she got to represent her country at the European Games. There, she had a rather rough competition during qualifications, struggling with her DTY and posting extremely low scores on bars and beam. However, she somehow managed to qualify into the floor finals over Laura Jurca after debuting a new opening combination. She did not manage to win a medal, but this is certainly something to be proud of. During Romanian nationals, she placed fourth All Around and second on floor exercise but then, she struggled once again at the Novara Cup. Silvia was never a super star as a junior and she has already exceeded most people’s expectations by being one of Romania’s top athletes. At Glasgow, she is expected to help her team on vault and floor.
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Her Baku teammate, Laura Jurca has had a very busy year, competing at multiple international competitions but she hasn’t been able to post many massive scores. As a junior, she was Romania’s biggest hope for the future, but despite being healthy for the entire year she has only shown minor upgrades and little improvement on execution. She started her senior career with a silver medal on floor at the Doha World Cup and she represented Romania at the European championships, where she qualified into the All Around finals. After that, she finished 7th All Around at the four Nations Trophy and she competed at the European Games. There, she was supposed to be the star of the team but to everyone’s surprise and disappointment she didn’t manage to qualify into any individual finals. However, she replaced her teammate, Andreea Iridon and competed at the All Around finals, where she finished 9th. More recently, she finished 5th All Around at the friendly meet against France, she won a silver on bars and a bronze on floor at Romanian nationals and she placed second on vault at the Novara Cup. She is an other contender for Romania’s second All Around spot and she is probably going to compete on all four events.
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The last member of the team is Andreea Iridon, who has really not lived up to her potential so far. She has participated in plenty of international competitions, including the Cottbus World Cup, the four nations Trophy, the European championships and the European Games but she has only broken 14 a couple of times during the year. The highlight of her year has to be the European Games, where she exceeded everyone’s expectations and saved the face of Romanian gymnastics by being her country’s only medalist. She won a silver on balance beam and a bronze on the uneven bars. Of course, she actually had a fall during the final, but so did most of the other competitors so she still ended up on the podium. I’ve said many times that Andreea is one of my favorite gymnasts. She’s graceful, she’s flexible, she’s unique, she’s artistic but that doesn’t mean much for an athlete unless they are also consistent and capable of high start values and Andreea does not have that. During the year, she has fallen more times than she has hit, she has struggled and she has made mistakes. In fact, if Catalina Ponor was on the team, Iridon would most likely end up being an alternate. Now, with the three times Olympian out due to an injury, she has a fantastic opportunity to prove that she actually deserves to compete alongside Romania’s best gymnasts and I hope she grabs it with both hands.
Romania should hope for a solid start on vault, since they have several of strong double twisting yurchenkos they can use. Andreea Iridon has never performed a more difficult vault than a yurchenko layout so she is obviously not expected to contribute here while they will hopefully not need to count Diana Bulimar’s lovely but easy full twisting yurchenko. The four remaining athletes, are all capable of yurchenko double fulls. Iordache’s is probably the best one. She always gets great height and distance and she knows how to control her landing well. Despite a legs separation during her block and her crossed ankles, she often scores above 15. Ana Maria Ocolisan is an other very powerful vaulter. Her DTY is powerful, high and clean and she is capable of sticking it. Laura Jurca and Silvia Zarzu are not quite as consistent as their teammates but they have both performed this vault well in the past. Romania does not have the difficulty of Japan, Russia, China and of course USA on this event, but they do have a significantly better scoring potential than countries like Italy, Australia and Germany and they need to take full advantage of that, because their next event is no other than the uneven bars.
As every gymnastics commentators in the planet points out in every competition, Romania has been historically weak on the uneven bars and this year is no exception. They certainly have a much stronger line up than they did last year, but they still are a team which is struggling to get more than one score above 14. Silvia Zarzu is very weak on this event, even by Romanian standards. Her only D rated elements are her gienger, her bail to handstand and her full in dismount and she struggles to hit her handstands and keep her legs together throughout her routine so she will most likely not compete on this event. Her teammate, Laura Jurca, has similar execution errors on this event and she’s very inconsistent but thankfully, she has a much better level of difficulty. Some of her most notable skills are her hindorff, her clear hip 1/1 + gienger combination, and her full in dismount. The second first year senior of the team, Andreea Iridon, was supposed to be the saviour of Romanian gymnastics on this event. However, as years went by, it was clear that she would be one more promising Romanian uneven bars worker who would never be able to reach her full potential on this apparatus. She has a decent routine, which includes a stalder full + gienger combination, a ricna and a full in dismount and she has a more fluid swing and cleaner execution than her teammates. Unfortunately, she is terribly inconsistent and even if she hits, she usually scores in the high 13s. Of course, a score like that is valuable for the Romanian team, but I just think that Andreea has the potential to do so much better. Diana Bulimar, who contributed on this event during the 2012 Olympics, has shown remarkable progress on this apparatus. She has added a lovely hindorff into a routine that already included a clear hip full + tkatcev, a bail to handstand, a shaposhnikova and a full in dismount. The only problem is that she doesn’t seem to be comfortable with this routine yet, and she has fallen more times than she has hit since she returned to competition. Ana Maria Ocolisan, who performs a van leeuwen, a jaeger, a maloney and a full in dismount, is an other gymnast who has improved a lot here. She is not very consistent, but her execution is quite clean and if she hits she has the potential to score above 14. Thankfully, there is one world class bars worker on the team and it is no other than the fabulous Larisa Iordache, who is finally living up to her potential on this event. She performs a maloney into a clear hip 1/2, a high jaeger, a church + pak combination, a van leeuwen and a toe on full into a full in dismount. She has been consistent with this routine at Romanian nationals and the Novara Cup and she usually sticks her dismount cold.
Historically, Romania’s balance beam line up is strong enough to help them recover from their weak bars rotations but this time, things don’t look as great. They certainly have some talent but without Ponor and Munteanu, they only have one athlete capable of scoring in the 15s, and in a team finals situation, this is not enough to make up for their weakness on the uneven bars. The star of the team is world and Olympic finalist Larisa Iordache, who has been spectacular on this event since she was a junior. Her routine, which includes a back handspring into a tucked full, a round of into a layout, a double turn and a triple twist dismount performed in combination, is one of the most difficult ones being done in the world and even though she has some legs separations and flexed feet throughout her exercise, she always receives massive scores. She has also been extremely consistent this year, hitting every single routine she has performed so I’m hoping that maybe, just maybe, this is her time to finally win an individual worlds medal on this event. Her teammate Diana Bulimar, who was pulled out of the Olympic Games finals so Larisa could fight for a medal, is also capable of difficult skills and combinations, like a back handspring + layout, a switch half, a front and a side aerial and two back handsprings into a high double pike. She is clean, she is solid and she is consistent so she always receives high execution scores but her start value isn’t high enough to challenge for a spot in the finals. Andreea Iridon, who is the junior European silver medalist on this event, is absolutely beautiful to watch. She has one of the most artistic and unique routines in the world and she performs an 1.5 Y turn, a switch leap + Y turn combination, a front aerial into a scale and a switch half. However, the highest score she has received this year in an international competition, even with a hit routine, is a 14.1. In addition to that, she has been struggling with the double pike dismount that she’s been competing since she was a junior. She downgraded it to a double full during Romanian nationals and she had a scary fall at it during the Novara Cup so I’m not sure how she will choose to finish her routine. Laura Jurca also showed great potential on this event as a junior but she hasn’t broken 14 during the entire year. Some of her most notable elements are her back handspring + layout series, her switch leap + switch half combination and her double tuck dismount. Ana Maria Ocolisan and Silvia Zarzu both have some impressive work on this event. More specifically, Silvia is the only Romanian athlete with a risky mount, a front tuck and she’s also capable of a switch ring, a front aerial into a switch leap and a 2.5 twists dismount. Ana performs a back handspring into a layout, a switch leap into a switch half and a double pike.
Their situation on floor exercise is very similar to their situation on the balance beam. They are strong and they have some fantastic skills but besides Larisa, nobody on that team can score much higher than a low 14. If I were a judge during this competition, I would give Diana Bulimar a full point bonus for her amazing recovery after her knee injury a few months ago. During this quad, Diana has had major problems with her knee three times and her last surgery was in June but that didn’t prevent her from coming back and nailing her double layout, her piked full in and her two double tucks at the Romanian nationals and the Novara Cup. However, there’s unfortunately no bonus for being an incredible fighter so Diana will have to rely on her execution. She minimizes landing deductions but she does have some legs separations and flexed feet during her routine. European Games finalist Silvia Zarzu starts her routine with an 1.5 + triple twist combination and she’s capable of a quick 2.5 + front tuck and two high double backs while Laura Jurca competes a full in, a 2.5 + front tuck and a triple twist. Andreea Iridon is absolutely stunning to watch on this event because she’s incredibly elegant and expressive, but her most difficult tumbling pass is a double pike and she can’t really help the team here. Ana Maria Ocolisan’s routine includes a triple full and 2.5 twists into a front tuck and it should be a reliable backup during qualifications. Two times world medalist Larisa Iordache is simply fabulous on this event. She is capable of one of the most difficult routines in the world and she performs extremely difficult acrobatic elements, like a silivas, a triple twist and a piked full in as well as hard leaps and turns, like a gogean, a gomez and a memmel + illusion spin. She also knows how to sell a routine to the crowd and she is absolutely delightful to watch.
In conclusion, Romania is certainly struggling and facing plenty of problems right now, but their gymnastics program is still alive. Even with only 50% of their former potential, Romania still is one of the strongest gymnastics nations in the world and there’s obviously no question of whether or not they’ll qualify to Rio. They are certainly not in the same position with China and Russia, let alone USA. Unlike those three countries, they are actually not certain to qualify for the team finals. But just like Great Britain and Japan, they would have to have a complete meltdown in order to not make the top 8. Remember, last year, when they had a much weaker team everything went wrong during qualifications and they still placed 7th. Of course, this time the rest of the world has improved, but I definitely think the can make it and even challenge for a medal. During the last two quads, we always thought that Romania would stop challenging for team medals, but they have ended up being on the Olympic podium every single time so we should definitely not count them out. After today’s podium training was over, the athletes said that they just have to BE Romania and really, this is all they need to do.
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