Monday, August 10, 2009

A (Not So) Brief History.........

Okay guys, so this is a new project for me. 
I noticed a lot in the Patriotism debate that a few people have said they got over Romanian gymnastics when they went downhill after 2004.
I have to say I liked them more.
I find the whole rise and fall of this gymnastics nation, and its incredibly checkered history fascinating.
I love how political history has affected them.
I love how mass defection and coaching changes caused huge shifts in the type of gymnastics produced by them.

I am inspired by their ability, unlike somewhere like Ukraine, to maintain a high standing (perhaps not as high as before) in the medals in the face of such economic and coach shortages crises.
I am astounded by how much controversy has come out of just one national program...
I am just so impressed at how all through these stormy times their girls have demonstrated an uncanny stoicism and psychological strength in the face of so much change.

Here's the first part of my history of Romania gymnastics.

I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I like researching them and that you learn some things you didn't already know. (And please, please don't comment and tell me I missed stuff, because I had to make choices. Not everything could go in. Besides, you are looking at hours and hours of hard research here already.) But I would like to hear if you enjoyed it.

So my first post is going to be about the Romanians historic relationship with the floor exercise. It is an event that I think over time, has flattered them immensely, and ridiculed them wholely. So I thought it'd be fun to take a look! I have included as many videos and links to videos as I can so you can see these moments for yourself. Just hit where it says HERE in red to watch any routines not embedded in the blog.  Read, watch and Behold!.....

The Romanians on Floor: A Timeline

Photo by Mathew Barber

1956- Elena Leusteanu-Popa competes on floor, leading the Romanian team to a bronze. It's Romania's first gymnastics medal and first ever Olympic medal!!

1967- Elena Ceampelea, who will go on to train Loredana Boboc, Silvia Stroescu, Carmen Ionescu and Florica Leonida and Sandra Izbasa at the Steau Bucharest, places sixth at the European Championships on floor.

(Ceampelea at work with the next generation of Bucharest talent)

1976- Nadia Comaneci further enamours Olympic audiences to her charm and talent and proves she can follow orders when she polishes off her cute-as-insipid-pie floor exercise along Geza Poszar's instructions, and finishes as he suggested, by "wiggling like a worm" In doing so, she was producing one of the most famous gymnastics photographs of all time. She took her only bronze of the meet for the floor final.

(Comaneci in 1976, just obeying orders!)

(Nadia repeats the move, with Sandra Izbasa and Elsa Garcia by her side at the Nadia Comaneci Invitational this year)

1977- A very gaunt and sad-looking Emilia Eberle (Trudi Kollar) performs a prototypically cutesy, but somewhat insane and fun floor routine at the Romania vs USA in meet in New orleans to the tune of When The Saints Go Marching In. This was the first in a long line of music choices determined by the country to be performed in by the Romanian delegation over the years.
The routine was actually intended to be comedic at points -a first and a last for the Romanians (check out the crowds giggling at Eberle's pretend death throes and the commentators bemused analysis!!). There were of course, many unintentionally funny moments to come in Romanian floor work, which leads me to next year......

1978- A young Romanian gymnast Gabi Gheorghiu demonstrates on floor what was a particularly interesting period of Geza Poszar's choreographical proclivities. The end result: gymnasts who look like they had a go on the crack pipe, then pulled the first record they found out of the record cabinet and raced around the floor like headless, dancing chickens to whatever tune came on. Horrifying, but kind of fascinating.

Or watch it on

1979- At the Junior International Championships, Romania shows the world that the talent at Onesti does not stop with Nadia, as the teeny Rodica Dunca exhibits a technically excellent and somewhat bizarre floor exercise for the Japanese gymnastics- hungry crowds (watch it HERE).


1980- Nadia Comaneci shows the world just how much she has grown up at the Moscow Olympics with her new, mature look and floor routine to match. She takes silver.

1982- At the World Cup Lavinia Agache proves that no matter how hard he tried, Poszar could not quite destroy the hints of lovely, balletic lines in one of his most graceful floor workers yet, despite the fact she was being forced to prance around like a manic show pony. Oh what the Soviets would have done with this girl!! She was wasted on the Romanian choreography of the time. Watch here

1983- The gymnastics world gets one of its first close looks at Daniela Silivas and the stellar floor work to come from her in the future at the World Junior Internationals. Here, the knee-high-to-a-grasshopper Dana performs a solid, near-perfect little routine (bar the shonky landing of the second last pass) and performs an incredibly high double back to finish. It is a taste of things to come. Watch HERE

Silivas photo from Tom Theobald

1984- In the Olympics floor exercise finals, Ecaterina Szabo acheives a perfect ten. Paired with her prelim score which eclipsed that of Julieanne McNamara's, who had also been awarded a ten, she took the gold. At these Olympics Szabo continued to more than proved her mettle as the first in a long, long line of the "next new Nadia's" that the Romanians were so desperate to produce back then. Watch HERE

1985- Teeny tiny Aurelia Dobre performs on floor at the Junior International Cup. She has a rough time, drastically under-rotating her double back tuck and stumbling. She is comforted on the sidelines by an equally tiny team mate. If only someone could have whispered in the crying Aurelia's ear that she is, within mere years, going to execute one of the most memorable and beautiful floor exercises ever performed by a Romanian, or any gymnast, loved by fans all over the world, she might just have cheered up a bit.

Watch here or on

1987- Aurelia Dobre, Daniela Silivas and Camelia Voinea amazed the world (and the Soviets!) when they each earned a perfect ten at the Rotterdam Worlds with brilliant, beautiful floor exercises. Voinea achieved it with a routine that expressed everything the eighties were about, bright leos, crazy electro music, wild tumbling and of course, breakdancing! And lets not forget the double layout punch front to start it off! Pure gymnastics gold!!!
Daniela Silivas executes a double twisting double back, a move named for her in the Code of Points.

At the DTB Cup the same year, the ever-lovely Eugenia Golea performs a fantastically jazzy little routine to the Chattanooga Choo Choo and a commentator states how pleased he is to see the Romanians shift from the old "little robotic cutesy dancing" of old.
Watch Golea perform HERE

(The Romanian girls cheering on floor)

Watch Voinea perform HERE

1988- Daniela Silivas and Aurelia Dobre treat the audience to a floor dance routine as part of the exhibition element of the DTB Stuttgart Cup. It is a crazy-eighties routine, but kind of in a good way. And very, very cute to boot. They looks as though they are trying not to crack up the whole time! Unfortunately, they wear black leggings over their leos, and for some reason, at the beginning, it makes them both look like they have extra long arms and oversize hands!! Watch it HERE

(Dobre and Silivas getting their whacky on. So cute!)

1989- Cristina Bontas performs floor at the World Artistic World Championships in the all-around and is awarded a perfect ten at the tender age of fifteen. Crazy-haired Cristina also surprised everyone by beating out Daniela Silivas to be the highest ranked Romanian in the AA, coming in fourth. She took bronze in floor after earning the second highest score on a tie basis. The fascinating little routine that earned her the ten had absolutely everything; interesting leaps, some spinning on her head, some crazy body waves, a little bit of grace and a divine double layout!

Watch it here or on Youtube
The bloody revolution in Romania still has the country in a spin, including the temporary closing down of the Deva school. The world loses the imeasurable grace and expression of Aurelia Dobre's floor work, who is forced, because of the crisis, to retire at age 17.

1990- The lithe Eugenia Popa performs a straddle jump full turn on floor, a move which will be named for her hereafter in the code of points.

1992- Lavinia Milosovic receives the last perfect ten ever awarded at a Worlds or Olympics for her high tempo- high octane floor exercise. She went up against some big shot floor workers of the time, like Onodi, Zmeskal, Mitova and Chusovitina, but nobody could touch her. A second look might show that it was somewhat less than perfect in the cowboying and stepping area, but it was still a terrific little routine from a fantastic gymnast at her peak. It is effervescent and dynamic to watch. I guarantee you will smile.

Watch Milosovic get the last 10


1993- Gina Gogean wins one the first of her gazillon major floor medals, taking the silver at the World Championships. It was also one of the first of the TWENTY World and Olympic medals she won during her career (watch it HERE)

At the Junior European Championships that same year, tiny Claudia Rusan awes viewers with a cutesy little floor routine in which the first pass includes a whipback-back-handspring into a double layout! She was sadly injured early and unable to climb the ranks in the sport after this stunning start.

Watch it here or on
1994- In the Dortmund World Team Championships (the individual champions were contested in Brisbane, Australia that year. It was the only one split up like that- weird innit?) the Romanians came out on top.
Their highest event score was on floor and of the five gymnasts who performed on floor in the optionals, Gina Gogean, Simona Amanar, Daniela Maranduca, Loaies Ionela and Lavinia Milsovici, not one single gymnasts scored less than a staggering 9.762!! (Maranduca's floor ex that she performed in 1994 began with her lying in foetal position he he!! Watch her somewhat beguiling routine HERE)

(The ever-dynamic Gogean)

1995- was the year people began to see that Simona Amanar was more than just a solid, dependable team member, but an accomplished and extraordinary athlete in her own right. At the Europeans Cup she won not only the vault, and a silver in the AA but another gold on floor. Unfortunately it was awarded for the the rather chicken-like arm-flapping dancing routine performed to the hokey hoedown music we all loved ( I say with due sarcasm) so much. Insanely good, clean tumbling though. (watch it HERE)

1996- The Russian and Romanians produce a dead heat on floor team scores at the European Championships, each receiving a combined score of 29.099! Lavinia Milosovic and Simona Amanar will, somewhat predictably, make it to event finals

1997- the much maligned Alexandra Marinescu proves to the world that Romanians can dance with her balletic and lovely floor exercise that was more remniscent of the well-trained Soviets and the energetic experimentalism of the Boginskaya body of work.

1998- At the International Teams Competition Maria Olaru performs a routine that I believe epitomises everything that was right and wrong about the Romanians at this point in history. Huge tumbling, perfect technique, an astoundingly high and perfectly completed triple twist paired with underwhelming, uninspired choreography and typically poor show of personality or performance.

(Maria Olaru)

In the same year, in the Junior division of the Romanian Nationals, the surprising newcomer from the Vittural Club in Cluj, Oana Ban, wins the floor event, a result good enough to win her an invite onto the National Team by Belu and Bitang.

1999- A gymnastics fan at the Netherlands versus Romania meet, who has been watching the uninspired floor dance work of Amanar, Olaru and Ungureanu, is told by Romania's old choreographer, Leon Cosma, the man responsible for that lovely eighties period of lovely, lyrical floor routines, that he had offered choreographic help to Belu, and Belu said he didn't need his help. As this fan said, and I quote "Is Belu blind?!!!"

2000- Andrea Raducan rounds off an excellent all-around performance in Sydney, proving herself one of the few gymnasts unaffected by the misjudged vault measurements, by performing a stellar floor exercise that included no less than a double layout, a triple twist and a 2.5 twist into a layout punch front and takes the gold- temporarily (she was feeling pretty good til the pseudoephidrene wore off ...kidding. I thought what happened to her was really sad).
In Sydney, Maria Olaru leaves her floor warm up to go and tell Belu that she is sure that the Romanian girls are going to sweep the AA medals. She is right, sort of.

(Raducan knows its hers!)

2001- Sabina Cojocar performs a 2.5 twisting front layout at Worlds that will somehow, mistakenly be attributed to Silvia Stroescu in the Code of Points.

At the Romanian Junior Nationals, young Oana Petrovschi shows off a lithe, elegant and fabulously mature floor routine. The tumbling was a little untidy, but Oana showed what is a more and more rare Romanian talent for dance in recent years, with wonderful extension and beautiful leaps. It was exciting, interesting and dramatic without being cheesy.

Watch it here or on

2002- Claudia Presecan, after her retirement, performs a topless floor routine for a japanese film company, along with Lavinia Milosovic and Corina Ungareanu. Not a very successful move, considering the wearing of their national team leotards got them banned from coaching or judging in Romania for five years after the deed.

Meanwhile, in elite gymnastics, The world begins to witness the massive talent of the young Steliana Nistor as her coaches, Raluca Bugner and Octavian Serban send her to one of her first major international competitions as a junior, the Siska Cup, where she comes away with a floor gold (and beam!) And by 2004 she will have the highest start values of any gymnast at the junior European Championshsips and take a gold on floor there too.

(Baby Steli Nistor with among the first of her big prizes)

2003- At the Anaheim World Championships Andreea Munteanu shows some rare personality and flair for floor performance from a young Romanian gymnast of this era, performing an engaging, not overly puerile routine with some mean tumbling and awesome flexibility. The little bag of energy does not let up for one second, smiling and making eyes at spectators and judges alike. She is a breath of fresh air. Sadly, she finished just out of the medals (watch it HERE).

(The ever-charming Andreea Munteanu)

20o4- High off an unexpected team gold medal, Catalina Ponor earns her second gold of the evening on the last night of the Athens event finals on floor, closely followed by the very pretty, and extraordinarily lyrical work of her team mate, Nicolletta Daniel Sofronie.

At these Olympics Silvia Stroescu does NOT perform (and never did OR trained) the 2.5 twisting front layout that is attributed to her in the Code of Points.

Watch Cata HERE
Watch Sofronie HERE
(Sofronie and Ponor congratulate each other)

2005- For the first time since, well, time immemorial (at least twelve years, I got bored fact-checking!) the Romanians do not have an entrant in the floor finals at the World Championships, which were held in Melbourne, Australia. Catalina Ponor was a mere third reserve for floor finals. In fact, they take home only one medal, on beam, for the entire women's competition.

Ponor Photo by Gymbox

2006- The qualification competition for the European Championshsips in Volos, Greece show a very interesting period of transition for Romania as their team accumulates the highest combined floor score of the qualification round. Representing the last of the well known Belu/ Bitang gymnasts, is the now old-school Catalina Ponor, who earns a 14.450. Representing the present day shakiness is blink-and-you'll-have-missed-her-career as-Romanian-Junior-European-beam-champion- Alina Stanculescu, who earns a 14.3. Brilliant newcomer and soon-to-be-stayer, with a routine designed around a new code, taught by a new coaching regime, Sandra Izbasa, basks in a massive 15.675

(Izbasa and Forminte)

2007- Steliana Nistor performs her floor routine to an elevator music version of Stairway to Heaven. Hard to know wether to laugh or cry..... (actually maybe that was 2006...shrug. Whatever year.....still bad!)

(Two generations of Romanian Gymnastics on one mat)

2008- One of the two stalwart sweethearts who carried the torch for Romanian gymnastics for the last quad, Sandra Izbasa proves that they can still come out on top after beating out the US talent twins for the gold medal at Beijing. Some incredibly solid landings, a huge difficulty score and inspired dance puts Sandra at the top, clutching the only gold medal won by a Romanian gymnast at those Olympics. And deservedly so...

2009- The lovely dance, pretty chorey and exquisite leaps of young Raluca Haidu at the Romanian International signals that Romania still has something under the floor hood ......

(Little Raluca Haidu)


  1. This must have taken you forever! Looking forward to the next installment!

  2. Great post. Thanks for all your hard work researching, this must have taken you ages! I was so happy when Sandra won gold in Beijing. How could you not get a little teary eyed when Forminte embraces her and then she has the moment with Cheng Fei? Raluca Haidu is extremely cute. I also love little Larisa Iordache on floor- she reminds me a lot of Munteanu. I would not be at all surprised if Romania have another Olympic Champion on floor in 2012!

  3. Thank you so much for this post! I truly appreciate all your hard work. I was very interesting and I learned so much. :)
    I thought I should let you know - you made a little mistake on this link. Where it's supposed to be milosovici getting the last perfect '10' there is a floor routine from camelia voinea at '87 worlds. Okay, that's it, take care :D

  4. Very nice post, I really enjoyed reading it and learned a lot from it. Thanks for all the effort you put into this. I'm looking forward to the next part.

    PS: I'm happy for Sandra Isbaza because she won, but that moment with Cheng Fei still breaks my heart. Oh how I wish that Fei would have won.

  5. Oh! Thanks for that tip, Sarah. I will change it now!

  6. This must have taken forever to research!! It was a very interesting read to see just how much Romanian gymnastics is connected to the floor exercise! Really looking forward to its continuation!!

  7. You made a few little mistakes in this post. For starters, Silivas did not do a full-in full-out at the 1987 Worlds. She did it in the team final of the 1988 Olympics. In 1987 her opening pass on floor was a whip through to piked full-in.

    Secondly, the Romanian revolution took place in December 1989. The Deva centre was temporarily closed in 1990, not 1991.

    Apart from that, good stuff!

  8. oh Maranduca!
    Rusan has remarkable acceleration through the whips and flics.

  9. Nice Work !

    However I think it was Celestina Popa( not Eugenia Popa) who is in the code of points doing a "Popa" . As I was told she and Maria Cosma (her coach ) tried to do some "new skills" during their summer camp in 86 in Deva and this move was invented. I really think Eugenia Popa later executed a lot of skills even better than their inventors.

  10. Aparte la foto de Nadia con la mexicana es mas chafa que nada se dice que esa es la copia de la copia de Comaneci.