Bucharest: One of the heavyweight nations of women's gymnastics, Romania will hope to rediscover a bit of lustre at the Olympics after a difficult period, despite fears for the future of the sport in the country.

Less in view on international podiums in recent years, Romania's gymnasts enjoyed a remarkable return to form in May when they won four of the five gold medals on offer at the European Championships in Brussels.

"It was a rehearsal for the Olympics Games, a training session with fans," women's coach Octavian Belu said.
"We have just one objective: the Olympic Games."

With 23 gold medals in women's gymnastics at the Olympics, Romania are the second most successful nation behind Russia (including the USSR), with both the United States and China far behind.

Nadia Comaneci, Ecaterina Szabo, Simona Amanar and Catalina Ponor, who will compete in London at the age of 25, are just some of the Romanian virtuosos who have marked the sport's history.

A flagship for Romanian sport during the communist era, gymnastics has seen its funding reduced to a trickle since the fall of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.

"Gymnastics, like all sport in Romania, is the victim of chronic under-funding, which reflects a period of transition that is still to finish," Adrian Stoica, the president of the Romanian Gynnastics Federation said.

Salaries are one of the principal problems. Just as with doctors and nurses in the medical domain, the best Romanian coaches often choose to move overseas.

"Those that stay are showing professional heroism," adds Stoica.

There is also a lack of gymnasts. The Romanian federation have just 250 registered gymnasts at their disposal, which provides headaches for the national selectors.

"On a nationwide level, we currently have six girls competing at a very high level and those are the six gymnasts who are preparing themselves for the Games," explains Bellu.

Thirty years ago, young Romanian girls fought to enroll at gymnastic clubs in the hope of following in the footsteps of the great Comaneci.

At the Montreal Games of 1976, the Romanian was the first gymnast to obtain the maximum score of 10 during an Olympic competition.

She went on to repeat the feat six times in Montreal, etching her name into gymnastics legend and becoming a role model for an entire generation.

"There was the Nadia moment but, bit by bit, the selection pool for the national team has diminished and today there are very few athletes who could be selected for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016," says Bellu.

The disenchantment can partially be explained by the growth in the number of activities open to children since the collapse of communism.

"If nothing is done, London will be a kind of swansong for Romanian gymnastics," predicts Catalin Tolontan, editor of Gazeta Sporturilor, one of the most prestigious sport newspapers in Romania. "Let's hope that song is as beautiful as possible."


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