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There were a few big stories on the women’s side at the World Cup that began yesterday in Ghent, Belgium – many of which involved the Romanian team.  The first was the much-anticipated return of Olympic floor champion Sandra Izbasa, who tore her Achilles tendon last year and missed the world championships.  The 20-year-old Izbasa returned to competition in fine-form, debuting a brand new floor routine with her trademark delightful presentation alongside a rendition of the same floor music used by Russian Ekaterina Lobaznyuk at the 2000 Olympics.  She may not be quite as sharp as she was in Beijing, but the always-popular Izbasa looked very fit and tumbled a tucked full-in, a 1 ½ through to triple full, and a 2 ½ to front full for her final run.  Her 13.9 (5.8, 8.4) actually topped the floor standings over teammate Diana Chelaru, who showed decent tumbling with a tucked full-in,. whip-triple full, 2 ½ punch front tuck, and double tuck dismount for a 13.8 (5.8, 8.0).  Izbasa’s successful return must be very encouraging to both the Romanian team and her individual fans.  I expect she may have to reconsider that 1 ½ through to triple full for Rotterdam – though she did it very well, she landed it with both feet completely out of bounds, and in fact I believe she was supposed to receive a 0.5 deduction rather than the 0.3 she was penalized.  I have a hard time envisioning a gymnast of her height keeping that pass in bounds consistently.  Nonetheless, it’s great to see her back, and it would be a huge boost for her if she were to win in the finals.

The second story involves the return of 2009 standout Ana Porgras, who broke her foot on her beam dismount at this year’s world championships.  Porgras, who last year emerged as one of the top all-arounders in the world and a medal threat on bars, beam, and floor, looked fantastic on both bars and beam here.  The lean and elegant Porgras used a wobble-free routine to top the beam standings with a 14.825 (6.1, 8.725) and placed 4th on bars with a 14.35 (6.1, 8.25).  Though her beam routine seemed perhaps a bit underscored, overall she is looking right on track for the world championships.  She also proved her 2009 world bronze medal on bars was no fluke, showing very clean inside stalder work, an impressive stalder 1 ½ turn to Yaeger, and an overshoot with her feet together – something we almost never see from a Romanian.

Finally, the Romanian team as a whole has been a subject of much debate recently, in particular how they are coming together under the newly returned leadership of Octavian Belu and Mariana Bitang.  Amelia Racea was even more impressive than Porgras on bars, placing 3rd with a 14.5 (6.0, 8.5).  Racea showed some similar skills as Porgras (stalder 1 ½ to Yaeger, stalder full, overshoot, and 1 ½ pirouette to double front), with perhaps even more beautiful lines and handstands.  Overall, the Romanians placed gymnasts near the top of the standings on all four events, and although this competition lacks many of the world’s top contenders, it’s clear their program is being revitalized.  With the strong comebacks of Izbasa and Porgras, better bar routines than we’ve seen in the past, and perhaps a psychologically rejuvenated team, the Romanians just may bring some surprises to Rotterdam – the same city where they pulled a major upset back in 1987 when they defeated the Soviet Union for the world team title.