Larisa Iordache left no doubt about it today: she is back.
The 2012 Olympic gymnastics team bronze medallist competed at her first international competition in more than three years on Thursday (17 December) as she led Romania to the top of the standings during the qualifying round at the Women’s European Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Mersin, Turkey. Many top nations, including defending team medallists Russia, France, and the Netherlands, have chosen to skip the event due to COVID-19 concerns.
After both of Thursday's subdivisions, Romania leads the team competition over Ukraine, 159.496 to 154.896. Hungary finished in third position, earning a total of 154.129. Team medals will be award in Saturday’s team final, and Romania will be looking for its first title since 2014.
Though there is no all-around competition at this year’s event, Iordache posted the top four-event score, a 54.565, nearly two points higher than her nearest competitor. She earned top marks in the individual event standings on balance beam and floor exercise, as well.
Once one of the leaders in the sport, having twice landed on the World all-around podium, Iordache stepped away from gymnastics after missing out at a chance to compete at Rio 2016 and a torn Achilles tendon during warm-ups for the 2017 World Championships. She returned to domestic competition last month, but was hampered in her preparations for the Romanian Championships after testing positive for COVID-19.
Even still, her competition there – with just two weeks of preparation – made clear she was once again her team’s best and deserved a chance to compete at the Europeans. She was quickly added to the roster and, now, has proven why.
Iordache will qualify to all four apparatus finals
Iordache wasted no time showing her form. In the first rotation, she posted a 13.566 on the uneven bars. She performed a Tkatchev to Pak salto combination in the middle of her routine before dismounting with a toe-on full pirouette to a full-twisting double back. Though Romania posted only 38.332 on the event, if Silviana Sfiringu, who fell on her double front dismount, can deliver Saturday their total should improve. Iordache’s mark was second best so far (tied with Slovakia's Barbora Mokosova), behind only Zsofia Kovacs of Hungary, who earned a 14.133 on the event.
On beam, Iordache once again delivered. The four-time European medallist on the event executed a difficult back handspring to tucked full twist, a double turn, and a triple twisting dismount to score 13.633. Her difficulty score was raised .400, 5.6 to 6.0, after filing an inquiry with the judges.
Romania moved ahead of Ukraine in the team standings after its performance on the floor exercise, where Iordache was once again the highlight. She tumbled two variations of the full-twisting double back before going out of bounds on a two-and-a-half twist to punch front. She closed with a double pike to score 13.433.
In the final rotation, Team Romania delivered three double twisting Yurchenkos to total a 41.799. Iordache stumbled a bit on her landing of her first vault, but delivered a clean full-twisting Tsukahara to advance to the vault final. Kovacs leads the overall event standings.
Up and down for Ukraine
Because they started on the higher scoring vault, at the start of the event, things looked good for Ukraine.
After the first rotation, where they earned a 41.565 total, they led the standings. But quickly things fell apart.
When they moved to the uneven bars, its final two competitors, Diana Varinska and Anastasia Bachynska, came to grief and posted scores of just 12.500 and 11.366, respectively. Varinska told Olympic Channel last week that contracting coronavirus had left her with just three weeks of training coming into Mersin. She admitted she didn’t know what to expect in competition.
“It is going quite difficult, I just had a coronavirus roughly three weeks ago,” said Varinska. “As I was preparing I felt sick, and for 14 days, I stayed at home doing self-isolation. Then I returned to training and it felt quite difficult. In general, it is always difficult to recover, and from a disease it is twice as difficult.”
A fall on her full-twisting double back dismount means she’ll miss out on the uneven bars final as the third best on her team.