GLASGOW: The back of their blue, red and yellow warmup jackets read "Romania." The performances on the floor, under the lights and in front of the world, hardly looked like it. Shaky on balance beam and shakier still on uneven bars, the former gymnastics superpower crumbled on the opening day of the 2015 world gymnastics championships. Once a regular medal contender and still considered among the sport's elite, Romania might not even make next week's eight-team final.
The once mighty have fallen. And fallen. And fallen. And they might not get the chance to get up. Not until next year anyway. Romania's lethargic total of 217.220 left it vulnerable to finish outside the top eight, a once seemingly impossible scenario for a country that has medaled in every Olympic team final since 1976. Though there are still more than nine months before the flame is lit at the 2016 Rio Games, Romania could find itself heading to Brazil sooner. Failing to make the team finals at worlds would force the Romanians to qualify through the test event next April.
Star Larisa Iordache, runner-up last year to two-time defending world champion Simone Biles, slipped off the bars and finished with 55.698, well off what she would need to be a serious threat to Biles in the individual all-around. The 19-year-old broke down in tears before ushering her sullen teammates back to the hotel to regroup. Sitting up in the stands, 1976 Olympic champion Nadia Comaneci sat in shock. The Romanian great understood her home country walked onto the floor at The SSE Hydro shorthanded after veteran Catalina Ponor injured her leg in training a few weeks ago and Anamaria Ocolisan twisted her ankle in practice on Thursday. Comaneci didn't expect to see what amounted to a full-on meltdown.
"I am sick to my stomach," Comaneci said. The Romanians were sluggish on floor exercise and uninspired on vault before unraveling on uneven bars. Laura Jurca was the only one among her teammates to get through a routine without hitting the mat. Diana Bulimar came off twice, standing there stunned for several seconds after her second miscue. The mistakes continued on beam, with Iordache botching an early skill and appearing disgusted as she tried to complete her set. The scores will reset for the team final next Tuesday. If Romania makes it.
"Sometimes when you have a great qualification I would be worried about the final," Comaneci said. "I think you should be somewhere in the middle. But this was not very lucky for them. (I just) pray to be there in the first eight and I think we'll talk differently in the final." Japan had no such issues in early competition, posting a strong team total of 223.863 that should have them in solid position for the finals. They felt relaxed enough to pose for selfies afterward, a stark contrast to the Romanians.
Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan likely won't make the individual all-around final, but the 40 year-old - yes, she's 40 - should make the vault finals even though she sat while trying to land a Produnova, basically two forward flips. Her two-vault average of 14.683 puts her in good position to make it to the event finals and has her on track as she tries to make it to a seventh Olympics.
Chusovitina said she feels "fantastic," three years after saying she was going to retire following the 2012 London Olympics. "We are women," she said through a translator. "We say one thing and we change our mind. It happens all the time."
Russia and rising Britain are scheduled to compete later yesterday. The US women, the defending Olympic champion and defending world titlists, will compete today evening. - AP