After the Romanian women’s gymnastics team was shut out of team medals at the 2011 Worlds, one may have thought that Romania would be a non-factor in London. I sure did.
Current events have proven otherwise.
Many say that the Olympic gold medal is going to come down to Team USA and Russia, but I think the U.S. really needs to watch out for Romania, who won back-to-back team gold medals in 2000 and 2004.
Romania took the bronze medal in Beijing and have won a team title in every Olympics since 1976. After Romania proved itself by edging out Russia to win the European Championships in May, Romania have a revived team which will be gunning for the gold.
"It was a good rehearsal for London. We saw the Russians, now we have to see the Americans and the Chinese," said coach Octavian Bellu of the toughest challengers for gold at the London Olympics in an interview with the Associated Press in May.
Then at the Romanian International Friendly, the last international meet before the Olympics, Romania scored a 180.2 where the team counted all 15-plus scores on vault and floor. Some may wonder if scores that high were inflated as that’s even higher than Team USA scored to win gold at the 2011 worlds.
The meet, which Blythe Lawrence of Gym Examiner called a publicity stunt, could be viewed as a chance for the Romanians to display their overall strength and advanced floor routines as the country typically does not host international competitions.
"Whether they meant to or not, this past weekend the Romanians staged a modern day take on that publicity stunt, hosting the very last international meet in Bucharest before the Olympic Games begin in 20 days. Not only did the Olympic team (Catalina Ponor, Sandra Izbasa, Larisa Iordache, Diana Bulimar and Diana Chelaru) score a whopping 180.2 (higher than the score the U.S. women tallied to win the 2011 World Championships), four of the five Olympic team members displayed eye-catching new floor routines," Lawrence wrote in the article.
Romania proved that it’s not time to count its country out, and Team USA needs to be ready.
The 2012 Romania Olympic squad consists of Sandra Izbasa, Larisa Iordache, Diana Chelaru, Diana Bulimar and Catalina Ponor.
The team is historically consistent with very few falls or major errors.
All five members of Romania’s squad are potential floor medalists.
Ponor was a triple gold medalist at the 2004 Games and will be Team USA’s biggest threat on the balance beam. Izbasa is the reigning Olympic floor champion and will be a match for Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas.
Fifteen-year-old Iordache is the country's new star. She stands out on floor and vault (it's thought that she might have an Amanar) and finished third at the American Cup, behind Wieber and Aly Rasiman.
The Romanians don’t come close to America on vault and have historically struggled on the uneven bars. Floor is where they can capture a lead, and it's highly likely that two of the three individual floor medals will go to Romanians.
In an interview with Gym Examiner, Romanian head coach Octavian Bellu said his athletes were training Amanar vaults, which could make them unstoppable.
"We have some,” Bellu said of Amanar vaults in the Gym Examiner interview. “We have some now, but to go in the competition with an Amanar vault, we must—I must—feel the gymnast is doing this vault without any risk. Because, you know what happened to Aliya Mustafina with her Amanar, and I don't want to put the pressure on my gymnasts to do this when they are not ready to do them 100 percent safely."
Romania is the team coming from behind, but with a mixture of experience, new difficulty and consistency, Team USA needs to watch out.
You can contact Emily Bayci by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @EmilyBayci. Follow @EmilyBayci