Simona Păucă – The next Nadia

She was the member of a generation of gymnasts among which the public, the press and the coaches were hoping to find a “future Nadia”. With the memory of the first perfect score in gymnastics´ history in mind, Simona Păucă had to face huge expectations during her career. Born in 1969, in Azuga, Simona had the support of her parents to join elite gymnastics from an early age. She started gymnastics in 1974, in Bucharest, with coach Iulia Dragomirescu. She would then move on to Dinamo Club, also in Bucharest, where she was coached by Emilia Liță and Florin Ștefănescu.

Her talent would quickly set her apart from the rest of the gymnasts. Together with Laura Cutina, she reached Deva, where the National team was training. The then coaches of the squad realized immediately Simona had a lot of potential and selected her for a series of international competitions, to prepare for the 1984 Olympics.

She went on to compete in 12 International events in 1983, taking home at least a medal in each one. The most impressive result came at the Balkan Games, where Simona won 4 gold medals. Her winning streak continued in 1984 when she finished first in the All-Around competition at the Arthur Grand Memorial and at the Cottbus International, on beam.

The 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games

Although inspired by the Greek Games and reinvigorated by a French, the Olympics were slowly becoming an American affair. The United Stated had historically brought to the Games hundreds of top athletes who competed on every event.

Since 1936, when Women´s Artistic Gymnastics officially became an Olympic sport, the Unites States had not won any medal in this increasingly popular sport.

The Americans could not show what they could do at the 1980, when the US boycotted the Moscow Olympics, but everything was set up for their triumph in 1984. The Eastern European countries were boycotting the Olympics, which meant their athletes and their judges would also be missing. Marta and Béla Károlyi, the pioneers of the Romanian centralized training system and coaches of Nadia Comăneci, had moved to the US and were now the coaches of many of the American team´s members. The competition would be held on home turf and the pressure on the competitors would be huge. It was their moment, the Americans could already taste the Olympic medal.

Cristina Grigoraș, Mihaela Stănuleț, Simona Păucă, Ecaterina Szabo, Lavinia Agache and Laura Cutina made up the Romanian team. The last three were the All-Around favorites, while Simona was expected to make a big contribution to the team score.

Simona Păucă surprised everyone – except those who had followed her closely and were already aware of her potential – with her excellent routines during Optionals, proving her quality as a gymnast with a 10 on beam.

Simona´s excellent scores put Romania in front and brought in the first ever team gold medal. After Lavinia Agache underperformed, Simona was Romania´s third All-Around gymnast, placing seventh.

Although she did not manage to get another 10, she showed consistency and scored three 9.9s (vault, bars and floor) and a 9.95 on beam. The gold medal fight in the All-Around competition was between Ecaterina Szabo and Mary Lou Retton but Simona´s bronze medal performance was equally impressive.

She also took full advantage of her last chance to put Romania on at the top of the Olympic podium again by shinning in the beam final, right beside Ecaterina Szabo. The judges could not set them apart so they both got a gold medal.

A career that ended too soon

Simona Păucă had a real chance of becoming the best Romanian gymnast and she was already being compared to Nadia Comăneci.

Despite of her coaches and parents´support (her father had even build a beam at home to help his daughter get rid of her freight) and a lot of potential yet to be exploited, Simona was forced to leave National team after some problems between Romanian officials and her parents.

Because of the lack of trainings, Simona could not get back to the level she has been at in Los Angeles. She gave up gymnastics in 1986. She lated stated: “It was a sad moment, but I was already 17 and it seems that time goes by faster for gymnasts.”

Simona then became a coach, moved to Cluj together with her husband, Gheorghe Rus, and brought back the gymnastics program to the local Sports Club. She wanted to offer a training alternative to young Romanian gymnasts, hoping to raise future champions.

Original article by Alex Bucur for antena3.ro here