In the past weekend the Romanian gymnasts got together in Cluj to dispute their National Championships and hopefully help decide their Olympic representative. Unfortunately, this decision still isn’t clear and we’ll only know the face of Romanian gymnastics in Rio in a few weeks.

Even before the competition started, the drama was already in action with Catalina Ponor in the hospital for a stomach flu and Larisa also needing medical attention after a fall in training that caused a concussion. There were doubts about them competing until the very last moment, but fortunately both were able to recover in time and perform their routines safely.

The first day of competition (Saturday, July 2nd) served as a team and All-Around final, as well as qualifications for Sunday’s event finals. Due to the small number of gymnasts, Juniors and Seniors competed together and the juniors actually performed better than some of their older teammates. Despite not competing due to injury, Diana Bulimar was present and did some very nice commentary during the competition, while other injured or retired gymnasts showed up to support their clubs and teammates.

With just four full teams in action, Constanta (including Catalina Ponor and Maria Holbura) finished in first with all scores above the mid-13s, except on bars where they counted an 11.966. Closely behind them was Deva which featured only three gymnasts, unlike the usual four, and all of them were juniors present at the recent European Championships (Carmen Ghiciuc, Denisa Golgota and Ioana Crisan). Despite their young age, this team posted equally strong scores on all events, with bars continuing to be Romania’s downfall where they didn’t get above 13.400. Over ten points behind, in third place was Bucharest with most scores in the 12-13 range (plus two scores below 10 on bars) and finally Onesti in fourth, with Silvia Zarzu their biggest name and their highest scorer on every event (yes, even bars).

In the All-Around competition, Larisa Iordache finished in first place despite downgraded routines on all events. On vault she performed just a FTY with small hop back for a score in the low-14s, while on bars she did a 5-8 difficulty routine that included a Van Leeuwen, a Tkachev to Pak and a toe-on full (where she had a small form break) to half-in half-out dismount. Unfortunately her coached spotted her on the landing and that caused a big deduction on her score, but she seemed happy with how things worked out and she got a 13.200. Next on beam, she once again performed a downgraded routine taking out the BHS to full and doing just a 2.5 twist dismount instead of her usual triple twist, but still managed a 6.1 in difficulty and got a total score of 15.100 to place first into event finals. Finally on floor, Iordache presented a new routine (with amazing music, may I add) that included some “easier” tumbles than she usually does, opening with a triple twist, followed by double tuck, 2.5 twist and double pike, maintaining her Memmel and quad turn, for a score in the mid-14s. Due to the very small depth of Romania gymnastics, Larisa was still able to win Gold despite finishing just below 57, as well as qualify into every event final besides vault.

The Silver medal went to homegirl junior Ioana Crisan, less than three tenths behind Iordache. On vault Crisan performed a FTY for a score just above 14, while on bars she got in the mid-13s for a low difficulty but clean routine that features stalder full, Tkachev, pak and half-in half-out dismount as her most difficult skills. On beam, her pet event, Crisan was incredible, placing just behind Iordache into the beam final with a score in the low-15s after a 6.1-difficulty routine that includes a gainer BHS to LOSO to LOSO, a BHS to BHS to layout, a front aerial to side aerial (though she missed the connection here) and a double tuck dismount. This routine served a bit as redemption for her miss at Event Finals in Bern, where she had a scary fall on her first series and didn’t finish the routine for precaution. It’s safe to say that had she hit, she could have been the current European Champion because she’s truly amazing on this event. Finally on floor, she performed another difficult routine (5.8 D-score) with clean execution but lost four tenths in neutral deductions, which I assume were out-of-bounds issues, so she could have taken Gold had she stayed within the floor area as she and Iordache were so close in the standings. Aside from the All-Around Silver, Ioana also qualified to every event final, including vault since juniors are allowed to perform two vaults from the same family.

In third place was Carmen Glavan, another 2001 junior, finishing about a point behind Ioana Crisan. On vault, Glavan also performed a FTY for a score in the low-14s, while on bars she scored in the mid-13s for a 5.0-difficulty routine. Next on beam she got in the low-14s after a low difficulty but clean routine that included a very original mount, a switch leap to Y turn, a BHS to BHS to back pike series and a switch ring, while on floor she posted her highest score of the day with 14.300 after a solid performance, including a Memmel turn, a front double full and an attempted triple (!) L turn. Similar to Ioana Crisan, Carmen Glavan also qualified into every event final, even though she only scored an 11.500 on her second vault.

Outside the podium were Maria Holbura in fourth place with 55.632 after scores in the mid to high-13s on all events, except beam where she scored 14.600 to qualify in third place to the final, while in fifth was Denisa Golgota posting just below 55, with huge scores on vault (15 for her DTY) and floor (14.700) but super low difficulty on bars (just 3.9 D-score) for a score in the high-11s. In sixth place was Carmen Ghiciuc with 54.732 after scores in the high-13s on all events but bars (high-12s), in seventh place was Daniela Ciurusniuc with 54.666, with most scores in the mid-13s range with beam her stand out event with 14.133 and in eighth was Silvia Zarzu with 54.499 posting in the 13s everywhere.

Aside from the all-around competitors, there were also some gymnasts competing just some of the events in the hopes of qualifying to event finals. The most famous of those gymnasts is two-time Olympian Catalina Ponor who posted a 15 for her DTY, a 14.533 on floor for her 6.0-difficulty routine that includes a double layout, whip to whip to piked full-in, a quad turn, a triple twist and a double pike, and also a 14.366 for her beam routine that included a fall on her double turn. These results allowed Catalina to qualify to the beam and floor finals and once again prove she’s very much in contention for the sole Olympic spot for Romanian gymnastics.

During event finals on Sunday, Juniors dominated the vault final with Maria Holbura the only Senior to performed two vaults from different families to qualify for the final. Denisa Golgota managed to win Gold with an average score of 14.266 after a DTY with some leg issues and a big step out-of-bounds and a Tsukahara full slightly piked down and with a small hop on landing. The Silver medal went to Ioana Crisan with a score of 13.783, while Bronze went to Ioana Oprea with 13.600. Outside the podium were Andreea Daniela Ciurusniuc in fourth with 13.417, Alexia Borascu in fifth with 13.333, Carmen Glavan in sixth with 12.617, Carmen Ghiciuc in seventh with 12.616 and finally Maria Holbura in eighth with 12.366.

On the uneven bars, Larisa Iordache took another Gold with 13.800 hitting her set cleanly despite some leg separations and short handstands. However, she seemed to be in pain after her dismount and decided to just compete on beam and miss the floor final to preserve her body. The Silver medal went to Anda Butuc with 13.300 improving her qualifications score in about a point after a low-difficulty but clean routine capped off with a quite original dismount, layout with 1.5 twists, while the Bronze went to Maria Holbura with 12.866 for a hit routine that included a double layout dismount. Missing the podium by just a tenth were Carmen Glavan and Ioana Crisan, tying for fourth place after having already tied in qualifications, albeit with a much higher score (13.400). In sixth place was Andreea Daniela Ciurusniuc with 12.733, followed by Silvia Zarzu in seventh with 12.033 and lastly Carmen Ghiciuc in eighth with 11.833 after a fall on her bail to handstand.

As for the beam final, Catalina Ponor was able to perform her routine cleanly this time earning a huge 15.166 for her effort that included a switch ring, an Onodi to front aerial to BHS to layout, a Kochetkova, an Omelianchik and a double pike dismount nearly stuck. The Silver medal went to top qualifier Larisa Iordache with 14.433 after getting her layout downgraded to a back pike and wobbling on some of her skills, as well as taking a big step on her dismount. In third place was Andreea Daniela Ciurusniuc with 14.133, the exact same score from qualifications. Just outside the podium were Maria Holbura and Anda Butuc both scoring 14.100 to tie for fourth place, despite a fall on her Y turn by Holbura. In sixth place was Camelia Anghel with 14.000, while Ioana Crisan finished in seventh with 13.600 after a fall on her LOSO series and Carmen Glavan finished in eighth with 11.800 after falls on her side aerial and Y turn brought her score down in 2.5 points from qualifications.

On the last final of the day, floor, Larisa Iordache dropping out allowed Ana Maria Puiu to compete and she took this opportunity to sneak in and win the Bronze medal alongside two other gymnasts. The Gold medal, however, went to Catalina Ponor with 15.000 after a much cleaner performance than in qualifications and with solid landings on all her tumbling passes, proving that should she be the one chosen to represent Romania in Rio she has a strong shot at making both beam and floor finals and possibly medal. Silver went to top qualifier Denisa Golgota after a strong and expressive performance that included a piked and tucked full-in and a piked and tucked double back and got her a 14.400. In third place there was a three-way tie between Ioana Crisan, Maria Holbura and Ana Maria Puiu with a score of 14.100, all of them with hit routines. In sixth was Carmen Ghiciuc with 14.066 after an iffy landing on her 2.5 twist dismount, while Camelia Anghel finished in seventh with 13.766 and Carmen Glavan finished in eighth with 13.366 after putting her hand down on her 2.5 twist.

These Romanian Nationals Championships concluded with both Larisa Iordache and Catalina Ponor proving the fight for the Olympic spot is still very much alive and that the decision between them will only be made at the last moment possible. However, today, July 6th, the Romanian Federation announced on that Catalina Ponor will be the one representing the country in Rio and will be the flag bearer during the Opening Ceremony of the Games [link]. Nevertheless, Larisa Iordache will also be traveling to Rio in case something happens to Ponor and she needs to step in. The Romanian girls will have yet another test before the Olympics at a friendly meet with Belgium, France, Switzerland and Germany in Chemnitz, Germany on July 23rd but the decision appears to have been made. Let’s hope Catalina can perform well in Rio and represent Romania in the best way possible in their first Games without a team.

Full results here.

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