On Cimpian and Why Hungary Could Be Exactly What She Needs

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With Nicolae Forminte back in place as the national team coordinator, a healthy crop of juniors and young seniors putting together a good foundation at Deva, and both Catalina Ponor and Larisa Iordache picking up beam medals at Euros this year, things looked like they were slowly and steadily getting back on track for the Romanian program after last year’s disappointing Olympic Games.

But because this is Romania and not a Disney movie, on Monday, Forminte announced on Facebook that Olivia Cimpian — the 2016 junior national champion who made the all-around final at Euros in April — is no longer training at Deva.

“Nobody has anything to hide and nothing is rotten in Deva…there was no reason to justify such a decision. I can only respect each family’s right to make decisions for their own children, [and] I hope Olivia will return to Deva, where she is loved and respected unconditionally.”

Fans had speculated in the weeks leading up to Forminte’s announcement after Instagram posts between Cimpian and her teammates hinted at something strange. “Forever friends…missing you!” fellow new senior Carmen Ghiciuc posted last Friday, while a few days earlier, Cimpian posted, “Good friends are hard to find, harder to leave and impossible to forget,” getting “goodbye” and “I’ll miss you” responses from teammates like Ioana Crisan, Maria Holbura, and Dora Vulcan, to name a few.

The few days between the Instagram posts and Forminte’s confirmation had fans guessing that Cimpian was merely moving to a new gym within Romania, maybe training in Bucharest with Iordache or something along those lines, but Cimpian — who won a bronze medal with the Romanian team at Euros in 2016 — is actually setting her sights on competing for Hungary internationally in the future.

Cimpian will move to Dunaferr, where 2016 Olympian and this year’s European all-around silver medalist Zsofia Kovacs trains. A six-year member of the Romanian national team, it seems Cimpian’s parents were largely behind the decision, noting that the 16-year-old parted on good terms with everyone at Deva without any hint of a scandal.

“What we want is for our daughter to grow as much as she can in the sport that she loves,” Cimpian’s father Marcel Cimpian, who used to play football in Hungary, told the press. “In Hungary, there is a different approach to training that we think will benefit her, and we think she could help their team.”

The Cimpian family will attempt to obtain Hungarian citizenship for their daughter, and Marcel hopes his own athletic connections to the country will help speed that process along, though it won’t be anywhere near as easy as he thinks.

The International Gymnastics Federation allows athletes to apply for change-of-nation requests once citizenship in a second or adopted country is established, but that change must also be approved by both the federation the athlete is entering as well as the one she is departing.

Naturally, the Romanian federation — which failed to qualify a full team to the Olympic Games in 2016 and is slowly trying to rebuild — considers Cimpian one of its top competitors currently at the senior level and doesn’t want to let her go. If no agreement is reached, Cimpian could basically be sitting in limbo for a year or more as the FIG tries to work on a solution, meaning Cimpian could still compete at various friendly meets and invitationals but wouldn’t be eligible for world championships this year, or any other FIG-organized events in the future until this is resolved.

At first, I thought the change would hurt rather than help Cimpian, as major changes like this tend to push gymnasts into the spotlight where they become too surrounded by drama and red tape to make training their focus. She was in a good enough position within the Romanian national team to make any major team coming up in the next couple of years, and was one of Deva’s shining stars, truly respected and adored by Forminte, making the desire to leave the program all the more confusing. So why leave?

In recent years, many gymnasts and parents have complained about the national team training system in Romania. The coaching allowed for very little individualization in terms of skills and routines, there was concern over the effectiveness of the quality of workouts and conditioning, and perhaps most obviously, the level of bars coaching was abysmal, all of which hindered the potential of talented young gymnasts trying to succeed within the program.

In the past five years, literally dozens of promising young juniors have completely fallen off track by the time they’ve reached the senior level, as if the national team staff is struggling to keep up with the advancement of its gymnasts. This issue was the primary cause behind the Romanian team being unable to send six gymnasts capable of qualifying to Rio, so the transition of the program back into the hands of Forminte was supposed to combat that, though it’s not going to be an overnight fix.

Cimpian is actually a prime example of the kind of gymnast who flourishes as a junior but then stagnates or even regresses at a time when she should be beginning to thrive. Taking the new code of points into consideration, Cimpian’s scores at age 14 and 15 — which hovered in the 52-53 range internationally on average — have dropped, with most of her event scores now hovering around a high 11 or low 12. She’s performing at nowhere near the level she was at as a junior, and while you could argue that some gymnasts simply peak before they reach the senior level, with Romania, it’s become the rule rather than the exception.

Her biggest claim-to-fame this year is being a beneficiary of the two-per-country rule at Euros, qualifying to the all-around in 26th place and getting a finals spot only because a couple of gymnasts who finished ahead of her were their countries’ third-best all-arounders, taking them out of contention (in finals, Cimpian finished 23rd after a disastrous routine on bars, always her weak event). Where gymnasts from programs much smaller and weaker historically than Romania stepped up and thrived on the European stage, Cimpian competed nervously and tentatively, looking like a junior despite turning 16 in January.

Hungary was one of those traditionally smaller and weaker programs that ended up standing out in Cluj, with 17-year-old teammates Zsofia Kovacs and Boglarka Devai both ending their country’s nearly 20-year European medal drought after confident and skilled performances in the all-around and on vault, respectively. Both Kovacs and Devai have grown tremendously in the sport, starting out as talented juniors a couple of years ago but then truly beginning to blossom once they aged into the senior division, showing a kind of transition all countries should strive to emulate.

The Hungarian program has made huge strides in the past few years, and is on track to continue its rise a great deal internationally in the coming years. Hungary is clearly doing something right when it comes to training, pacing, and putting together programs that suit each gymnast, so based on this and on their recent international success relative to Romania’s, it’s easy to see why this system is so appealing to the Cimpian family.

Even the potential suspension while her nationality change gets worked out could be in Cimpian’s benefit. The year or more it could take to straighten everything out means Cimpian can take a step back and focus on reconfiguring herself within the sport, getting used to new coaches and workout regimens and routines early enough this quad so that by the time everything works out, she’ll be back early enough to get some major competitions under her belt before she needs to start worrying about qualifying to Tokyo, but not so early that she’ll end up burning out, which often to happen to gymnasts who turn senior so early in the quad (Cimpian turned 16 exactly one day too late to be eligible for Rio).

Additionally, while Cimpian is on a pedestal within Romania at the moment, we don’t have to look much further than last quad to see how quickly things can turn around. Catalina Ponor coming out of nowhere to swoop in and take all the team spots is kind of a running joke at this point, but it’s actually a serious concern in Romania, especially as several top young gymnasts have been pushed aside rather than nurtured when veteran gymnasts announce their plans to return to the sport.

2015 European beam champion Andreea Munteanu was one of several of last quad’s new seniors who felt discouraged by the threats to bring in Ponor whenever the team didn’t perform at a high standard. She and others felt sidelined by this, thinking, “why even bother training when Ponor’s just going to get the spot anyway?” which led to a mass exodus of several European and world team members between 2014 and 2015. Even Larisa Iordache, who led the Romanian team by a landslide all quad, wasn’t safe, losing out on the Rio spot to Ponor in the weeks leading up to the Games despite the two being pretty equal in terms of finals potential in Rio.

Veterans can be incredibly inspiring to young gymnasts, which is why the Hungarian girls all look up to two-time Olympian Dorina Böczögö, who still competes to this day despite no longer always being one of Hungary’s top team choices. The culture of the Hungarian program is one that allows the gymnasts to see Böczögö in the gym and think, “I want to be like her” instead of seeing her and thinking, “I might as well quit,” which is why Kovacs and several others were able to rise up and challenge her last year, with Kovacs ultimately beating her for the Olympic spot.

This symbiotic relationship between motivation and collaboration in Hungary is what Romania said they were going for back in late 2014 when they announced Ponor’s return to the sport, but we could see almost immediately that instead of feeling motivated and inspired, the younger Romanian athletes simply felt shamed and ignored for not being as good as their veteran teammates, leading to the exodus that dropped Romania’s depth into the toilet and ultimately gave them no shot at qualifying a full team to Rio. In Hungary, Cimpian can benefit from having several successful older teammates guiding her without also feeling like her position on the team is automatically threatened by them if she makes a mistake, making this yet another positive outcome of her move.

Honestly, after Euros, I fully felt like Cimpian was going to end up another Munteanu or Andreea Iridon or Stefania Stanila by the midpoint of this quad. Seriously, with every ounce of promise she had as a junior, I was so bummed about all of that talent being completely thrown away, and yet it felt inevitable for because of how frequent it happened with gymnasts last quad. Now with her switch to the Hungarian system, while a bizarre move to me at first, I can see about a million pros and almost no cons.

The Romanian program is dying, but Hungary is on the rise. Through a training system that is much more attuned to the needs of teenage gymnasts, Cimpian can revitalize and thrive, in turn helping the federation right back by adding depth to the small-but-mighty Hungarian team. This quad, Hungary could be on the shortlist for qualifying a full team to the Olympic Games, and a fully productive Cimpian could get them even closer to their goal.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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20 thoughts on “On Cimpian and Why Hungary Could Be Exactly What She Needs

  1. I hope Cimpian can realize her potential in Hungary. I love her gymnastics style, but I could see that in Cluj she wasn’t anywhere near the level she had shown less than a year before as a junior. It’s actually very reassuring that she’ll be training with Kovacs, who has a great Bars and vault set. Cimpian already has good difficulty on Beam and floor, as well as a solid vault. I’m hoping that the coaches in Hungary will polish Beam and floor and help her be more explosive and clean on vault, the way Kovacs is. Cimpian has tons of potential on Bars, she has fantastic lines, she actually has decent swing, and she’s attempting some of the skills that some of the top bar workers are doing, the major problem with that is that Cimpian is chucking those skills. Seeing the way Kovacs has progressed on Bars makes me hopeful that they can work with Cimpian on a bar set that suits her, and also clean up all the skills that she hasn’t been doing well. Even if Romania doesn’t release her right away I’m sure they will eventually, so if Cimpian shows good progress in Hungary, they’ll have plenty of reason to celebrate, since it actually makes a Hungarian team at the olympics an actual possibility. Hoping for the best!

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  2. she won’t get any medals, her start value is not high enough and with all this drama i don’t see it ending well. I see a lot of the articles saying that romanian programme is not doing well, they don’t do this and other, but none of them are mentioning that there are far more less gymnasts now than 20 years ago, the base is much thinner, if you have 12 elite gymnasts and 300 in total while in US have thousands..thats the main issue, not the programme..

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    • No one in this article said Olivia Cimpian is going to win a medal. Plenty of programs have a small number of gymnasts to choose from. Belgium has a much smaller selection pool than Romania, and yet has way more depth which allowed them to qualify a full team to Rio last year while Romania couldn’t make it happen. You can’t blame a lack of athletes on the failures of the Romanian program when many other smaller programs are succeeding.

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      • it was an one/off lets see if they manage to keep going for many years, i don’t remember any of these countries medalling,,..and yes is about winning medals..not just participating :)))

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        • Well Romania isn’t winning medals anytime soon, aside from Ponor and Iordache, so whether Cimpian stays in Romania and goes to Hungary, she has no team medals coming her way. Why not instead focus on the best training setting for her? Because at the end of the day, it’s about making sure teenage girls are happy and healthy and able to enjoy their experience so they grow up to be strong and confident women. So far from what I’ve seen, everything in Hungary’s system in the past five years has been much better with the development of gymnasts into confident and strong competitors, whereas Romania’s system has consistently pushed gymnasts to hate the sport so much they retire by the time they’re 15 or 16. If Romania was currently winning medals, maybe it would be worth coming up in a tougher system, but they’re not winning medals right now, sooooo…what’s the incentive, exactly? Clearly Romania’s system didn’t work for Olivia, which is why she went from being a strong junior to a senior who can barely earn a 50 AA. I’m glad she found a new way to train instead of quitting like every other gymnast in her situation has done in the past five years.

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  3. Wow this is a kind of shocking development. Knowing how petty Romanian leadership is, there is no way they’re going to let her go easily. Still this article put everything in perfect perspective. You look at a case of Romania and bars and its hard not to feel like: what other option does someone like Cimpian have? Kovacs has made finals on the event so at least she knows there are coaches there that can help her. Its like a set of dominos when a specific event gets this bad. There is nothing someone with AA ambitions can do when there seems to be no option for them to take a step back and improve on an event. I mean, Aly Raisman in 2010 had bars reminiscent of a 2004/2005 Sacramone but she was at least able to improve to the point of being an AA contender. It feels like a huge part of Romanian gymnastics at this point is girls so RUINED by their bars that their progress gets stunted everywhere else. When, as a team, you are constantly falling all over the place on easy bars routine and then you have to get up and keep your nerve on beam, your GOOD event as a team, what happens? They fall apart.

    Its not 1980 anymore. Heck its not even 1996 anymore. Gymnastics has shifted and now the focus is no longer on peaking a girl at 16. They should know that now with their two stars well into their 20s and still contending for AA and event medals at worlds and the olympics. Its time to change the training regime to protect bodies not break them apart.

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    • Excellent comment! And yes, if Olivia is not happy in Romania, her only other option is what every other unsatisfied young Romanian competitor has done in the past five years beginning with the HUGE loss of Ana Porgras in 2012 — RETIRE. Why are so many 15-18 year old girls who can get huge scores retiring before they even try to get to the Olympics? There are way too many problems like this to ignore at this point —
      clearly something is wrong with the system. At least Olivia’s family is seeing another option for her, and even if Romania will be petty and not let her go without a fight, she’ll still get to train at a different club until it’s all hopefully worked out someday. This highlights the biggest problem with a centralized system like Romania’s — if you don’t like it, you can’t just change clubs. You have nowhere else to turn, and so going to a new country is your only option. It’s a shame but hopefully it’ll make Romania realize that something needs to change…though clearly they haven’t picked up on that in the past five years as nearly all of their juniors end up retiring a year or two into their senior careers.

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      • they retire for health reasons and some retire because once u won a medal in world..olympics or euro u get paid a wage every month, so some prefer to get the cash and relax. same system worked for many other gymnasts and i’m quite sure there will be other in the next years, I’ve seen some juniors and they look very promising. u trying to generalise and is not cool

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        • It’s not a generalization — it’s a pretty clear observation that not a single junior who turned senior in 2013-2016 ended up being productive at the senior level. Every single junior who looked like they might have a great senior career ended up falling off the map after regressing skill-wise following the move from Deva to the senior national team. I do think giving Forminte control of the senior program and keeping girls at Deva for the entirety of their careers will help, but it’s not going to be an immediate change. There is clearly a lot wrong with the system that needs to change, and if there wasn’t, Romania wouldn’t have missed out on the Olympics while MUCH weaker programs made it in. Frankly, the unwillingness to recognize the change is part of the program’s problem, so you can have fun pretending everything’s perfect, but newsflash — no healthy program has this many problems.

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        • But if they retired for health reasons, the question becomes why? You said, rightfully, that the overall program has dwindled in numbers. So if you know your program is dwindling, why are you not doing more to protect the health and prolong the careers of the girls you have? It has to be said why are other emerging star programs like The Netherlands, Hungary, Belgium, Brazil, UK and Germany not having the same problem of constantly retiring young or even a bit older gymnasts? Those gymnasts are having injuries too but they are inspired to come back and make another go of it. I think the point Lauren is making is there is something in the way the Romanian program is structured right now that is making it so these girls don’t feel appreciated enough to continue after an injury or a stall at 15/16. That is not ok for a small program. If they’ve invested a lot of time and money to get a young girl to elite and they retire at 16 that says something is wrong with the program overall. I think we all LOVE the storied history of the Romanian program and even the current crop of potential future stars. However its not enough to say–well theres girls who win medals and thats enough and everything will be ok. To actually continue to have girls who win medals, outside Larisa and Catalina, the program has to figure out a way to nurture gymnasts that are rising and also find a way to adapt to the changing dynamics of gymnastics. One of those changing dynamics happens to be that the sport is tending towards women over 18 rather than girls from 15-17.

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        • Very interesting points from Sam and Lauren. I understand that it’s not easy or simple and that there are issues outside of the program’s control, Nicolae, but there is a lot that can be controlled so shouldn’t the coaches and the program ask the questions that we’re asking here? I love the Romanian gymnasts, so I hope the program can really examine themselves and make changes to get back to one of the top countries. Ideas that have all been mentioned that seem attainable: Modernizing the conditioning and nutrition options for the athletes, providing mental health support, doing something (anything!!) about bars, adjusting routines for the code and to suit the strengths of the gymnast, implementing recruiting strategies… this comment isn’t meant to be critical of Romania but to say that there IS so much promise there and I want to see them succeed so I hope they take action! In the meantime, I’m excited to see what this change can do for Olivia.

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  4. Sport isn’t the whole life. At the moment, Hungary is a fascist country, Viktor orban is racist, sexist, extreme-rightist. It’s a strange choice to leave your country where people struggle for freedom to go in the most terrible country of the European Union. From EU, Cimpian’s choice seems very controversial. Who could dream to live in a dictatorship just to get a 5.2 instead of a 4.8 d-score to uneven bars ? Just crazy …

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  5. Shelly, and Lauren in Romania there are 200 gymnasts, juniors and seniors, all together! and 10-12 at elite level, and most of the elite level are there just because they have the age not the talent.. if you trying to compare a country with 200 gymnasts with others that have 5000 or even 100 000 like US is madness. The main problem is the base and selection as not many kids are coming to gymnastics, they are more interested in iPhones and tablets. Theres a new program sponsored by Petrom, national oil company where they trying to support new girls to do gymnastics, as in paying their stay in the sport colleges all around the country, and by the look of it they have some promising girls there as they are in their third year and they are aiming for 2024 Olympics. In Romania you can’t have like in US clubs, that dosent work for many reasons, centralised system is the only way for now…The bars problem comes from the clubs where they don’t have good or enough coaches as they all left to train in America and not only..and they are sub financed, basically they train on bars from 20 years ago..and sometimes they even made their own bars in some clubs. I could go on and on and on about why is the decline. Please watch Nicolae Forminte Facebook page where he’s posting some videos from training and seee whats going on in Deva, he’s trying to form a team for Tokyo and 2024 Olympics..

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    • I’m honestly not trying to compare Romania to the US – I realize size and money are different, not to mention the culture. I can’t begin to imagine the club levels and their equipment. I didn’t mean to say that the centralized system doesn’t work either. I will check out the Facebook page. And I’ll keep rooting for Romania. I’m a huge fan which is why I really hope that all the elements are being examined to make them successful. And I wish Forminte the best!

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    • exactly, I think thats the point Bellu was saying every interview I’ve seen with him, lack of numbers and lack of talent and will to do performance, a combination of three.

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    • Cimpian has D’s 5.7 BB, 5.4 VT, UB & Fx and hit routines would give her 53.5 which is perfectly respectable for a 16yr-old. She was in a weak program with no seniors she could draw support from (Ponor and Iordache are just spoilt brats who don’t give a damn about the program or the juniors and everybody else has retired except Ocolisan and Jurca who lack experience themselves). Yet she and Crișan stepped up and represented their country at the Euros and did remarkably well in their first major competition as seniors. If you want to throw spite at people, throw it at the people who deserve it, not youngsters who are just learning to compete. If you took for example, Maddy Kocian as a junior and put her into the Romanian program she would have struggled to win a medal. Would you blame her? Would you say she had no talent?

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