The Future of Romania is with Forminte

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Under the leadership of Nicolae Forminte during his tenure from 2005 through the summer of 2010, the Romanian women won eight world and Olympic medals, including bronze as a team in both 2007 and 2008.

Since then, the program has disintegrated, missing team medals every year but 2012, where they qualified fourth but were able to take advantage of China’s multiple falls in the final. Even at the individual level, aside from two event medals in 2010, the only success has come from the veterans, with Sandra Izbasa and Catalina Ponor both event medalists in 2012 and Larisa Iordache the only Romanian woman to medal at worlds from 2013 to 2015.

But nothing compares to 2016. Due to poor performances at last year’s worlds and this year’s test event, Romania didn’t qualify a full team to the Olympic Games. Since its first appearance on the Olympic stage in 1952, Romania always had a full team at the Games aside from one little break in 1968. Between 1976 and 2012, they earned a team medal at every Olympics, including three team golds. And in 2016 — the 40th anniversary of Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10, their first gold medals, and what was effectively the beginning of the country’s dominance in the sport — the federation brought a single gymnast to Rio to compete only two events.

Honestly, we all saw it coming in Nanning and in Glasgow, but my mind is repeatedly blown every single time I think about it. It’s not that the team lacked talent, but rather that there was such a gaping hole of disparity between the top two or three in the country and everyone else. One athlete getting injured shouldn’t derail an entire program, and yet when they lost Iordache going into the test event this year, the best they had as replacements were girls scoring two points lower on each event (compare this to the U.S. where alternates are at the same level as the majority of the girls on the team).

I talked a lot about why this was so bizarre, especially in a quad that saw about 30 promising juniors reach the senior ranks. Only a handful of these juniors reached a respectable senior international level, but then — discouraged by a couple of rough meets — regressed in their ability, peaking much sooner than their country needed them to.

The issue over the past quad has been with getting talented juniors to continue their rise as they break into the senior ranks. But the system didn’t really allow for this, as the girls would leave Deva and the junior development team once they turned 16 and then enter a completely different coaching situation, one that changed everything they knew. The father of Laura Jurca, one of the top juniors this quad who performed well as a senior but never really grew into the star she might have become, blamed her transition from Deva to Bucharest as the key reason for her stagnancy.

“The girls are good, hard-working, and talented,” Titus Jurca said. “How many girls had high difficulty coming from Deva? They’ve been left hanging. No one upgraded. Some even downgraded. They don’t condition…I’m in better shape than Laura. At Deva, she used to do five or six routines on each event and come home exhausted. Now, training with the national team, she does only one or two and she’s full of energy.”

Had the gymnasts from Deva stayed on track working with Forminte, they likely would’ve continued their upward progression to become major contributors at the senior level. Instead, they never reached their potential, and were cast aside for a program that favored the return of superstar veterans like Catalina Ponor over preparing the younger generation to move forward.

Going into the new quad, Romania has a core group of junior gymnasts with so much potential to turn the program around. All are Deva-trained, currently thriving under Forminte, and I wrote in April that it would be in their best interest to stick with their junior coach if they want to transition smoothly into the senior ranks.

Today, the Romanian federation announced that they will do just that.

“Some mistakes — and perhaps not only a few — have been our own,” FRG president Adrian Stoica said in a press announcement released today. “These mistakes have had direct repercussions on the overall results, errors we want to avoid in the future. We have made a number of decisions in the reorganization…[in order to] maximize the potential of the gymnasts eligible for Tokyo 2020.”

One of these decisions was the reinstatement of Forminte as the national team coordinator, a movie Stoica actually refused to make earlier this year but now realizes is the only option. But instead of moving to the national team training center, Forminte will continue to operate out of Deva, keeping his current crop of juniors who turn senior next quad (including top competitors Olivia Cimpian, Alisia Botnaru, Ioana Crisan, Carmen Ghiciuc, and Denisa Golgota), and adding young seniors Jurca, Maria Holbura, Denisa Stanciu, and Dora Vulcan along with coach Adela Popa.

“The new organizational principles represent a unanimous desire to ensure consistent training both methodologically and technically,” Forminte said in the release. “We have a promising group capable of meeting the rigors of an intense program, talent that will now have the opportunity to rise.”

“We’re not allowed to make even the slightest mistakes anymore,” he told ProSport. “The road to the place we’ve lost is hard to get to and easy to let go. We hope to find the inspiration to go back to that place as quickly as we left it. The main goal is to qualify to the Olympic Games and to win medals. I will be building this strategy with the help of the federation and the technical staff.”

Iordache, Ponor, and Ana Maria Ocolisan will continue training in Bucharest, likely under Lucian Sandu and the Moldovans, a decision fully supported by the federation. Diana Bulimar, Andreea Ciurusniuc, and Silvia Zarzu have been dismissed to their local clubs, though the doors remain open for their potential participation on the national team if they show readiness in the future.

While it’s not entirely ideal to see the gymnasts split between the top veteran women training in one location and the younger up-and-coming gymnasts in another, it’s smarter to keep the younger group where they are familiar, because as we saw this quad, bringing them from Deva to a separate senior training situation simply did not work. It’s understandable that Ponor and Iordache, both adult women, would not want to return to Deva, but it’s also not fair to remove the promising kids from the gym they grew up in and from the coach who got them to this level. They need consistency, and that’s exactly what they’ll get.

I’m personally thrilled that Stoica has seen the error of his ways and has decided to correct things rather than continue to operate under the “everything’s sunny all the time always” pretense he’s taken on for most of this quad. I think this is exactly what the program needed to thrive, and think the younger girls will absolutely benefit from keeping their coach and their training situation as it’s been since they reached the upper levels of the sport.

For the first time in years, Romania seems to be on the right path. They are realizing the value in not only winning medals right now but in creating generations who can win them in the years to come, which is how every other top program operates and the only way they will be able to succeed at the international  level again. There’s no doubt that the coming quad will see them reenter the top eight and likely even the podium mix rather quickly with these changes, and they have a lot of young talent to get excited about in the lead-up to Tokyo 2020.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

26 thoughts on “The Future of Romania is with Forminte

  1. Of all the young Romanians from the last quad, Andrea Iridon and Laura Jurca stood out to me. I was disappointed that Iridon couldn’t make the transition from promising junior to stand out senior, and that she retired after the Test Event. She was particularly lovely on beam. But she’s still only 17 years old, maybe she might find a way back if she has the motivation?

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    • and Munteanu was so promising, a fine floor worker and a great beamer.
      It’s like they lost their sparkle once they became seniors … I understand now they didn’t adapt to the change of gyms and coaches, do other countries have the same system? I know the US and the Russians don’t, gymnasts transition from junior to senior with the same coaches

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      • Lauren, if it’s possible could you post a comparison of the Romanian training system as it is now, what it will be a year from now and what it looked like at, say, Athens, 2004? Did the 2004 team train only at Deva? Did they change coaches when they turned senior? It would be interesting to see whether the training system itself has changed over the three quads.

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  2. Romania is finally seeing what’s wrong with the program. I’m glad there’s been realization in programs like China and Romania (finally), because seeing gymnastics die in programs kills me.

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  3. It’s still important to consider that Romania has said things like this before. Remember the “changes” they promised to make after worlds in 2014 & then worlds 2015. And then look at what actually happened. The exact same thing as before. I hope they mean it this time.

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    • Yeah, but this is already happening, and Forminte has already been reinstated as coach, so they weren’t just talking about that…these are real things. They can’t predict the future and say Forminte will make everything better, but I’ve been saying all year that keeping the juniors at Deva when they turn senior will be the only way to keep up consistency, and hopefully that’ll end up being true. It just doesn’t make sense to take kids who are slowly rising in the sport and then completely change their training regime when they hit 16 to a point where they’re training less frequently and with different coaches. That creates so many problems and is why 30+ kids in 2013-2016 failed at becoming seniors. Other factors come into play but keeping the juniors with Forminte as they continue to grow in the sport and become seniors SHOULD lead to a bunch of positive changes. They’ll still have issues with bars, they’ll prob still have issues with threatening younger kids by being like “HAHA PONOR’S GONNA TAKE YOUR SPOT” but at least the juniors won’t be blindsided by a training change that causes them to stagnate or regress.

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      • I think it will help having different coaches for the new seniors from Ponor because there won’t be a conflict of interest. Since they’ll be training in separate locations and with separate coaches, it’ll be much easier for Forminte to openly encourage the new seniors to beat Ponor for a spot on teams. The separate coaching loyalties will be good for keeping the new seniors motivated and they can serve as internal competition for each other (which drives improvement) without being overwhelmed and intimidated by someone older and so much more experienced in their midst.

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        • Yeah I agree. I think there have been issues with Ponor in the past as well, in terms of how she treats some of the younger girls in a kind of dismissive way, which to the younger girls can come off as mean/nasty. There was such a divide between Ponor and pretty much everyone but Bulimar last year, and Ponor made a lot of comments about missing her 2004 teammates and having friends on the team instead of taking on the role of leader or team mom in the way older gymnasts have done in other programs.

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        • I wish Ponor took on the figure Raisman did as the “Mama Aly” of team Romania. Instead Larisa has tooken over that role instead. I think Ponor is kind of spoiled in a way by their success in Athens, so she feels a stronger connection with the team that she won gold with at the olympics rather than the team that finished 6th at Euros. With Romania in general, I’m happy to hear that this was actually happening, I wasn’t sure whether or not they were just saying things that don’t up being true. I hope the coaches don’t switch up the juniors regime because what the juniors have been doing is good, difficult routines and most importantly, have been progressing a lot so hopefully they don’t disrupt that.

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  4. That’s strange about the team members not getting the necessary numbers of routines and not having the proper conditioning. When they Romania was at its peak, they won a lot because they worked the hardest and were the most prepared. It’s a shame they let go of that.

    I hope they do turn things around in the upcoming quad. I always had a soft spot for Romanian gymnastics.

    I still can’t wrap my head around them not having a full team at the Olympics.

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    • Yes… they need to just freaking hired some bars coaches asap. I dont know how they can really be back into top 4 without doing something about it…you just cant try to make up for weak bars with other 3 rotations anymore…

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  5. It is so, so important for the Deva group to remain with their coaches and not to change the environment, as you very well outlined. For example, Denisa Golgota has a very special relation with coach Forminte, and he looks after her with extreme care, in fact all the girls seem to have a very good relation with Forminte and the other coaches, as I have noticed at the Nationals in July.

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