It’s been a long road back to gymnastics for Larisa Iordache, who ruptured her Achilles while warming up floor before competing in qualifications at world championships in 2017 and spent the next three years facing surgeries, rehab, and a global pandemic before finally getting to return to the floor for the first time at Romania’s national championships in November.
During her comeback attempt, one of Iordache’s doctors told her she only had about a fifty percent chance of returning to the sport, and when she couldn’t get her program together in time to make it to worlds last year, her Olympic qualifying potential dropped from possible to super unlikely. If she wasn’t ready for worlds in October 2019, would she really be competitive enough to earn one of two Olympic berths at Euros six months later?
While COVID-19 destroyed the Olympic plans for hundreds of gymnasts preparing for Tokyo 2020, Iordache was one of a few who undoubtedly benefited from the extension. Instead of pushing for an impossible April 2020 deadline, Iordache was able to make her competitive return with about six months to go before the rescheduled continental qualifier, giving her time to not only get back to a high level, but also allowing her time to get used to actually competing again.
The importance of getting back into the swing of things was evident in Iordache’s first skill back, where she fought her way through a toe full, causing her to then stress out and miss subsequent skills, like her Maloney and her full-in dismount. The routine was nervous and rushed, and only earned a 10.567, but the first routine back is always the hardest and once she got it out of the way, the rest of her competition was great, if not perfect, leaving her with room to improve, but five months to make it happen.
Her beam wasn’t at full difficulty, but she still had some clean work, and even more impressive was her ability to save elements that could have otherwise gone awry, like her tuck full series and her double turn. And her final two events, floor and vault, were highlights of the competition, with her floor at a much higher difficulty level than I expected (she opened with a triple full, and she also had a 2½ to punch front, double tuck, and double pike), while her Yurchenko double on vault was pretty close to perfection.
At the end of the day, Iordache’s all-around score was a 52.234 even with the rough bars outing, and though she was unranked here, the score would have ranked her fourth overall (and third among the seniors). She also competed in the bars and beam finals, performing excellently in both, with her bars score of 13.333 the highest in the final by over a point, while her beam score of 13.767 was second-best. It’s clear that with a hit bars routine, she’s looking at a 55+ at home, and even with more realistic international judging, I think she’s still looking at around a 53-54, which is pretty great considering how long she’s been away, and considering how limited the international field will be at Euros this year. It’ll be a great competition for her to get her feet wet on the international stage, and I was expecting to see the federation include her on the team.
Initially, Iordache wasn’t included as part of Romania’s nominative selection process for Euros, with the choices based on an internal camp prior to nationals. The team originally included first-year seniors Silviana Sfiringu, Ioana Stanciulescu, Antonia Duta, and Daniela Trica alongside Maria Holbura, the country’s sole qualifier for the Tokyo Olympic Games after she somewhat shockingly got the berth in Stuttgart last year. But over this weekend, the federation finally added Iordache to the list based on her nationals performance, removing Trica, who will likely serve as the alternate.
Sfiringu and Stanciulescu were the top seniors at nationals, with Sfiringu taking the title with a 54.033 while Stanciulescu got the bronze with a 52.800. Sfiringu vaulted a powerful DTY with a step back, and she also had the best bars set in the all-around competition, with a stalder full to Maloney to toe full to Pak, van Leeuwen, piked Jaeger, straddle Jaeger, and double front earning a 13.500. She had a miss on her flight series on beam, catching her flight series in handstand to save herself from falling, though the rest was fine, and her tumbling on floor was excellent, including a whip to triple, piked full-in, front 2½, and a clean double tuck.
Stanciulescu, meanwhile, was downgraded on vault and floor, though was beautiful and had some of the highest scores of the competition on both. Her floor was especially a highlight, getting a 13.833 with gorgeous execution on her tucked full-in, double pike, 2½ to front tuck, and double tuck. The tumbling’s a bit “junior” compared to what she’s capable of, but with so much time away from the gym this year, I’m glad she’s holding back and focusing on her E score. On bars, she took some extra swings between her Maloney and Ray and crashed her full-in to her knees, and on beam, her flight series was downgraded while she struggled through her front aerial to illusion series, pausing between the two and wobbling at the end), though the rest was nice, and she stuck her double tuck.
These two also dominated apparatus finals, with Sfiringu taking gold on vault, silver on floor, and bronze on bars, while Stanciulescu won the golds on bars, beam, and floor in addition to the silver on vault. Both Sfiringu and Stanciulescu were consistently Romania’s best juniors over the past two years, so it’s not surprising to see them almost seamlessly step their way up into senior competition, and though Iordache seems on her way back to potentially challenging for an Olympic berth at Euros in 2021, her biggest competition in the fight for a spot is just as likely going to come from this pair than from any international challenger.
The rest of the seniors – Duta, Trica, and Holbura – finished sixth, seventh, and ninth, respectively, with the differences between their scores pretty negligible. Duta had a 49.400 with just a Yurchenko layout on vault, some short handstands and a downgraded bars dismount, a fall on her jumps to back handspring on beam, and a few weak landings on floor. Trica ended with a 49.267 and was a bit soft and piked in her FTY, had a hit but weak bars set, came off beam on her front handspring to front tuck, and her floor was hit, but just lacked difficulty, opening with a double tuck and featuring a 2½, front tuck to front full, and double full. Holbura, finally, finished her day with a 48.466, looking a little weak on vault and falling on bars, showing lots of form issues throughout her beam set (though her double pike was good), and doing her strongest work on floor until she landed her closing double tuck nearly in a fall.
I think the decision to remove Trica from the team over Holbura has to do with both the fact that Holbura’s overall scoring potential is a bit better than Trica’s, and also with wanting to give Holbura a chance to get some more international experience before she competes at the Olympics next summer. Nationals wasn’t great for her, but beam aside, she’s historically a stronger gymnast than Trica, and with the other four gymnasts already having a pretty solid hold on beam, I think this makes sense, at least if Holbura is actually hitting.
The all-around competition included top juniors as well as all six of the country’s current seniors, and one of these juniors ended up sneaking her way onto the podium, which was fabulous and not at all a surprise when you know that this junior was 14-year-old Ana Maria Barbosu. A dominant force in the espoir category last year, Barbosu has a history of being a kid who can hit, and aside from just one missed bars set, she did that over and over and over again here, winning all-around silver with a 53.866 in the mixed field, all-around gold with a 54.566 in the junior Level 6 field, and then sweeping all four apparatus titles in the junior finals.
Barbosu headlines the junior Euros team for Romania, which also includes Iulia Trestianu (fourth here with a 49.900), Andreea Preda (fifth with a 49.533), Maria Ceplinschi (she only competed vault and bars at nationals, and finished fourth on both in the apparatus finals), and Luiza Popa (who didn’t compete because of a positive COVID-19 test at her club). This is probably still the strongest group even post-nationals, so I don’t see it changing, but I loved Ana Maria Turcu‘s style and hope she can increase her difficulty because she’s lovely to watch and her start values are really all that are holding her back.
Article by Lauren Hopkins