Larisa Iordache

Larisa Iordache, Simone Biles
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Larisa Iordache, once Simone Biles’ closest rival, chases comeback

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Nobody has challenged Simone Biles in international gymnastics quite like Larisa Iordache. As Biles prepares to finish her career at the Olympics next year, Iordache hopes to join her there, which would be quite an achievement.

Iordache, a 23-year-old Romanian, recently announced she plans to compete later this year for the first time since 2017 and three surgeries. The circled competition is the European Championships in Azerbaijan in December, rescheduled from early spring.

Though Romania failed to qualify a team for Tokyo, Iordache can secure an individual Olympic spot for the nation via her all-around result at Europeans.

“I went through a lot of difficult moments,” in recent years, Iordache said via email through Romania’s gymnastics federation, “but I never gave up to the idea of doing gymnastics. It was hard to perish so long, but now I’m fine. I can say that I like what I do so much, so I decided to give myself another chance to prove myself that I can do it.”

Iordache is the last remaining link to the nation’s storied women’s gymnastics history — 10 straight Olympic team medals from 1976 through 2012.

Romania failed to qualify a women’s team for the Olympics in 2016 and 2020. For Rio, the nation could send just one female gymnast of its choosing.

It opted for Catalina Ponor, the triple 2004 Olympic champion hanging on for one final Games. Iordache, a 2012 Olympian sidelined by two surgeries for a broken finger and a concussion in the lead-up to Rio selection, went to Brazil, too. As the alternate.

Unfortunate, given Iordache still owns the distinction of being the closest of any gymnast to beating Biles at a global championship. At the 2014 Worlds, Iordache finished .466 shy of Biles in the all-around. Since, Biles won the Rio Olympics and three more world titles, all by at least one point.

“To be honest, I never thought about the competition between athletes,” Iordache, who also took bronze in the 2015 World all-around, said when asked about competing against the American. “I always tried to prepare and implement my own exercises in a safe way.”

Iordache endured after Rio. She won the Romanian national title in September 2017 and arrived at the world championships in Montreal that autumn as a medal favorite.

All of the Olympic medalists were absent. Biles on a break from competition. Raisman made Rio her last competition. Russian Aliya Mustafina became a mom. Iordache had the best credentials of anyone in the field.

In warm-up for the qualifying round, Iordache tore an Achilles. She was carried off the floor and later wheeled out in a chair. She has not been seen in competition since. She underwent surgery in October 2017, another one a month and a half later and a third in September 2018.

Though she never quit gymnastics, the thought crossed her mind. Then she considered the alternative, giving up a sport that first piqued her interest at age 5. When Iordache was 11, a Romanian newspaper ran a story about her with the headline “The New Nadia.”

“When I’m in the gym I forget everything about what is happening around me, and the feeling I have in these moments is the one I can’t meet in my daily life,” she said. “I try to take advantage of this feeling as much as I can.”

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Gymnastics world all-around favorite withdraws in warm-up

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MONTREAL — Romanian Larisa Iordache, an all-around medal favorite, withdrew from the world gymnastics championships with a torn Achilles suffered during qualification warm-ups Wednesday.

Iordache was carried off the competition floor before her first event, floor exercise (video here). She was later seen being wheeled out in a chair.

Iordache, a world all-around medalist behind Simone Biles in 2014 and 2015, was set to be the primary competition for U.S. champion Ragan Smith in Friday’s all-around final.

Smith, a Rio Olympic alternate, is seeking to extend a U.S. streak of Olympic and world all-around titles dating to 2011 (Jordyn WieberGabby Douglas, Biles).

It’s yet another setback for Iordache, who was left out of the Rio Olympics following a broken finger.

Romania, which earned team medals at every Olympics from 1976 through 2012, failed to qualify a full team for Rio.

The nation was allowed one gymnast at the Games. The federation chose triple 2004 Olympic champion Catalina Ponor over Iordache.

Iordache finished fourth, second and third in the three world championships all-arounds won by Biles in the last Olympic cycle.

She came back in August to win the World University Games all-around over a field that included Rio fifth-place finisher Ellie Black.

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Five female gymnasts to watch at world championships

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Female gymnasts to watch at the world championships, which begin with qualifying Tuesday, followed by the all-around final Friday and apparatus finals on Saturday and Sunday in Montreal (no team event) … 

Ragan Smith, U.S.
P&G Championships All-Around Champion
AT&T American Cup Champion

Leader of the U.S. team of four that includes zero Olympians, a first at worlds since 2007. Hopes rest on the 17-year-old coached by 1991 World all-around champion Kim Zmeskal Burdette to extend a U.S. streak of six straight all-around golds (Jordyn WieberGabby Douglas and Simone Biles four times).

With none of the Olympic all-around medalists returning, it would be no surprise if Smith does take gold. She won the U.S. all-around title by a whopping 3.4 points (greater than Biles’ average winning margin). Her title at the American Cup came despite a fall. Could challenge for beam and floor exercise medals, too.

Larisa Iordache, Romania
2014 World All-Around Silver Medalist
2015 World All-Around Bronze Medalist

The best gymnast to not compete in the Olympics last year. Romania, which earned team medals at every Olympics from 1976 through 2012, failed to qualify a full team for Rio. The nation was allowed one gymnast, and the federation chose triple 2004 Olympic champion Catalina Ponor over Iordache, who was coming off a broken finger.

Iordache finished fourth, second and third in the three world championships all-arounds won by Biles in the last Olympic cycle. She came back last month to win the World University Games all-around over a field that included Rio fifth-place finisher Ellie Black. She is Smith’s biggest competition Friday.

MORE: World Champs broadcast schedule | Male gymnasts to watch

Sanne Wevers, Netherlands
Olympic Balance Beam Champion
World Balance Beam Silver Medalist

The only woman to win gold over Biles in Rio. Wevers, a 25-year-old twin, became the oldest female Olympic gymnastics champion since 1968 with her surprise beam title. As the only returning Rio medalist, Wevers would seem a medal favorite, but she was fifth at the European Championships in April.

Maria Paseka, Russia
Two Olympic Vault Medals: Silver in Rio, Bronze in London
World Vault Champion

The only woman at worlds who earned medals at each of the last two Olympics. Paseka is a vault specialist. It’s the only apparatus Russia used her for at the Rio Games, where she was coming off a back injury. Though Biles and vault star Hong Un-Jong of North Korea won’t be at worlds, Paseka’s medal hopes are uncertain. She was fourth at the European Championships and third at the World University Games.

Oksana Chusovitina, Uzbekistan
Two Olympic Medals: 1992, 2008
Oldest Female Olympic Gymnast Ever — 41 in Rio

The great Chusovitina debuted at worlds in 1991, winning gold with the Soviet Union team. She has since competed at a record seven Olympics with three different teams — Unified Team, Germany and Uzbekistan — and an eighth is not out of the question. Chusovitina has long focused on vault, where she won 10 Olympic or world medals, the most recent in 2011. However, Chusovitina last qualified for the eight-woman vault final at worlds in 2013.

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