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