Between 2013 and 2015, Larisa Iordache was Romania’s golden girl, dominating at home and picking up multiple international titles, including gold on beam and floor at Euros and six world cup wins.
The world championships gold always eluded her, however. Iordache picked up a total of four silver and bronze medals between Antwerp, Nanning, and Glasgow, becoming Romania’s 14th most-decorated gymnast at the world level in just three years. But with beam consistency struggles in either qualifications or finals every year, and competing in the shadow that was Simone Biles in the all-around and on floor, Iordache never managed to come away with a world title.
The missing gold medals and not being selected to represent Romania at the Olympic Games despite being the country’s most successful gymnast last quad gave Iordache major motivation as she began to approach the coming years. Now, Iordache comes into Montreal with the highest all-around and beam scores as well as a top-eight floor score so far this year, making her one of the biggest threats for the top of the podium in Montreal.
Based on what I’ve seen from everyone in 2017, I think there are a few ‘total package’ gymnasts that will make the fight for gold in Montreal one of the most exciting all-around battles in a decade, but there’s something about Iordache that sets her apart from the rest.
The biggest competitor she’ll have to face at worlds will be her own consistency. Despite a dominating performance at Universiade in August, falls on beam at every stage of the competition limited her, getting her just a bronze on beam instead of what could’ve been an easy gold, and though she still ended up with gold in the all-around, that absolutely will not happen in the field we’ll see at worlds.
Thankfully at Romanian nationals this weekend, Iordache was able to stay on the beam, hitting every single routine over the two days of competition to win gold in the all-around as well as on bars, beam, and floor in event finals. While some of her scores were a bit ridiculous, including her 58.466 in the all-around and a 15.566 on beam, the important part was that she looked mentally strong, having the best overall meet we’ve seen from her since the world all-around final two years ago.
Part of that could be that she had zero competition at nationals in Ploiesti, and having already earned her spot on Romania’s worlds team, this was a zero-pressure meet for her. Pressure is generally her number one enemy, especially when competing her more difficult skills, like her two fulls on beam (one tucked, one laid-out). Winning an all-around title more than six points ahead of the next-best senior in the field isn’t exactly a comparable situation to going up against five other gymnasts who can score similarly at worlds, but if anything, she at least showed here that she can hit if she needs to, which could be a big confidence booster going into worlds.
The only other gymnast who showed worlds readiness at nationals was Catalina Ponor, the three-time Olympian who at 30 is pushing forth through her fifth quad at the senior level. Actually, this wasn’t a great meet for Ponor, who won the beam title at Euros earlier this year, but she struggled this weekend with uncharacteristically wobbly routines, including falling twice on her Onodi and ring jump in her beam qualifications performance.
Of course, because the rest of the Romanian field is so far behind, Ponor still managed to win the silver medals on both of her events, with scores of 14.6 and 14.133 on Sunday. She won’t get close to those scores with routines like that at worlds, but I do like that she fixed her floor construction, taking out the punch front and instead doing a front tuck through to a double back, which will solve the problem of her losing the front tumbling requirement if she makes a mistake.
I still don’t think floor will be a realistic medal (or even final) for Ponor, though if she hits beam the way she did at Euros, I could definitely see her challenging on that event. Her routine isn’t my favorite, but she has more than enough difficulty to make her a favorite.
With no other seniors looking even moderately competitive, the Romanian federation is opting to send only one other gymnast to worlds with Iordache and Ponor. The only other seniors to break into the top eight all-around were Ioana Crisan in third with a 52.098, Carmen Glavan in fourth with a 51.432, and Maria Holbura in fifth with a 51.264, none of whom will make an event final, with even the all-around final looking out of reach at this point.
Crisan, who placed 18th in the Euros all-around final this spring, was initially pegged as the third member of this team, and her all-around finish in Ploiesti showed that she’s still probably the best choice, but multiple falls and low scores on Sunday put her consistency into question, perhaps opening the door to someone else.
I still think Crisan will end up going, though, as no one else really stood out enough ahead of her to make waves, as neither Glavan nor Holbura nor any of the other seniors at this meet looked anywhere near ready. Carmen Ghiciuc did step up to win the silver on bars with a “Romanian respectable” 12.833, but this is the 850th best score of 2017 so it’s not like it’ll get her very far, and besides, her all-around performance put her tenth with a 49.698, way outside the window to make all-around finals.
Other notable seniors at this meet included Andreea Ciurusniuc in 11th with a 49.399, Andra Anghelescu in 18th with a 45.532, and Laura Jurca, who competed only on vault and bars, putting up solid enough scores on day one, but earning just a 12.2 on bars in finals, not as if it would’ve mattered if she hit. Like Ghiciuc, there’s no way she’d come close to the bars final, and without an all-around program, there’s very little reason to send her.
Crisan makes the most sense to stick with, if only for her difficulty levels and the potential that comes from having higher D scores, but honestly, Iordache and Ponor are the only two seniors who have demonstrated anything close to international readiness, so it really doesn’t matter who goes for the third spot, sadly.
In fact, the only other gymnast with ‘international readiness’ is Denisa Golgota, the super-powerful junior who placed second all-around with a 52.999 and went on to win the vault title as well as the bronze on floor, even dealing with a minor injury. Golgota, who becomes a senior next year, has shown regularly throughout her career that she could be incredibly valuable in team situations in the future, but I’ve said the same thing about at least 20 juniors over the past five years, so I’ll hold off on declaring her the next Romanian savior until she actually makes it to the senior level.
Otherwise, the strongest juniors at nationals included Daniela Trica in sixth with a 50.898, Euros team member Iulia Berar in seventh with a 50.399 (and a 13.966 on beam!), Silvia Sfiringu in eighth with a 50.232, and Lisa Marchidanu in ninth with a 50.098. Both Sfiringu and Marchidanu are 2004 babies, making this a young group with plenty of time to improve going forward, but again, let’s hope that actually happens.
I think overall, the juniors out-performed the seniors (minus Iordache and Ponor, of course) in event finals, with several top five performances including Golgota in first, Sfiringu in third and Trica in fourth on vault; Ioana Stanciulescu in third, Trica in fourth, and Berar in fifth on beam; and Golgota in third, Trica in fourth, and Maria Pana in fifth on floor. The D scores were mostly pretty low in this group, but there were a few hit routines to be happy about.
For real, though, I am about as pessimistic as humanly possible with the whole Romanian juniors transitioning to seniors thing, so we’ll see what they can do in the future. The fact that literally no one has made that happen at a high level since Iordache is mind-blowing, and yet the federation will likely continue to pretend that any success from Iordache and Ponor in Montreal means the program is fully healthy. Sigh.
The other news out of Romania this weekend was the official retirement of Diana Bulimar, who was going to give the sport another shot after dealing with roughly one injury per year since London, but I think it was too hard for her physically to continue after yet another surgery following her ruptured Achilles last May. We wish Bulimar the best of luck, and hope she’ll finally be able to give her body the rest it so desperately needs now.
Full results from Romanian Championships are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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