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Liliana Cosma: We’ll do our best to find talent for 2024

                Liliana Cosma offered a very interesting interview to Romania’s news agency Agerpres, talking about her career as a gymnast and as a coach, her hopes for the Deva Olympic Center, where she is the head coach and the newly unveiled national selection program. Find a translation of this interview here.

Photo: Agerpres

                With more than 30 years of experience in elite gymnastics, first as a member of the junior and senior national teams, then coaching gymnasts such as Sandra Izbașa or Maria Olaru, Liliana Cosma is currently preparing Deva Olympic Center’s gymnasts for the 2020 Olympics. She is also involved in the national level program that looks to discover talented kids who would like to go into elite gymnastics.

AGERPRES: What does gymnastics mean to Liliana Cosma? 

Liliana Cosma: I started gymnastics when I was about six years old, at Deva, after a mass selection organized by Bela and Martha Karolyi. They had moved to Deva then. I did gymnastics for about 10-11 years, winning Nationals and being a part of the junior national team and the Universiade senior team. I have around 10 national medals. My favorite apparatus was floor. I gave up gymnastics while I was still in high school to focus on my studies and then I started working for School Nr. 7 (the school I had attended myself for 12 years). I started working as a coach in 1992 and I was part of many national staffs. In 1996, I became the coach of the Junior National team, in Bucharest. Maria Olaru was part of this team and she became Junior European Champion on vault. I then trained the Deva and Onești Junior National teams until 2002 when I joined the Senior Olympic team in Deva, where I worked with Octavian Bellu, Mariana Bitang, Nicolae Forminte. I went back to train the Deva juniors from 2003 to 2005 and back to the seniors from 2005 to 2010. This team won one gold and one bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics. Back then, my responsibility was beam. I decided to leave the team in 2010 and move to Italy, where I had a two-year contract with the Italian Gymnastics Federation. I was a counselor for the junior and senior gymnasts and their coaches and worked for the Cesena and Bologna clubs. I returned to Romania at the end of 2012 and took over Deva Olympics Center’s junior team in April 2013 as head coach.

AGERPRES: Why gymnastics? 

Liliana Cosma: It’s difficult to say, because I was very young when I started and I can’t remember. I do know that, from the moment I stepped into the gym, that’s all I ever wanted to do. It’s like a “drug”. If I look back at everything I’ve done in gymnastics, as a gymnast and as a coach, I would do it all again without any doubt. Even in my last two years of high school, when I had already retired, I still went back to the gym to help my former coaches. It wasn’t anything official, but I was still going back to the gym.

AGERPRES: What do you expect from the gymnasts you are currently training?

Liliana Cosma: I really want them to be successful. We have 14 girls in the team, two of them are at Izvorani and the rest are training here with me, at Deva. There’s a group of girls eligible for the 2016 Olympics. They are not among the first at the National Championship, but they are talented kids who’ve made up the second part of the standings. We are training them hoping that some of these girls will make the Izvorani senior team. I would really like the five 2001 born girls we currently train, who are eligible for the 2020 Olympics, to become core team members for Tokyo. Some of them became national champions last year like Ioana Crișan (from Cluj-Napoca), Olivia Cîmpian (Arad), Alexandra Mihai (Bucharest) and Corina Găianu (Constanța). They will become seniors in 2017 and are our main gymnasts for 2020. Three of them competed at the “Nadia Comăneci Invitational”, a very well organized event held in Oklahoma City, in February. They placed third in the team final and second and third in the All-around, Romania’s best result ever. It was a special moment for these young gymnasts, who got to compete on a podium, in conditions similar to that of major international competitions. We are talking about Ioana Crișan (silver), Olivia Cîmpian (bronze) and Alexandra Mihai.

AGERPRES: How will support coming from private companies help gymnastics?

Liliana Cosma: A public-private partnership was signed between Petrom, the Ministry and the Romanian Gymnastics Federation. This partnership is trying to implement a reform and set the basis of a new selection model. Six training centers came together to support this: Onești, Constanța, Bucharest (Steaua and Dinamo clubs), Deva and Timișoara. We have specific coaches there who will coordinate this, plus other coaches to handle the selection process. We have already started a pre-selection process. We really hope we can find talented kids who would like to go into elite sport because now, with Petrom supporting their training, we can offer them a scholarship which includes everything from housing to schooling to equipment. We are just going back to basics, where it all started, trying to offer everything they need to those who have the right skills and want this. It’s a national level selection who will route the kids to the closest center so that they are close to home. We are looking for six to eight year olds but we’ll also accept five year olds. It’s a huge project meant to find gymnasts for the 2024 Olympics. Those six years olds we discover now will be 16 by then.

AGERPRES: Are kids today still interested in gymnastics?

Liliana Cosma: Kids are different today. Not because they don’t want this, but because there are so many possibilities out there today. This limits us a bit because this beautiful sport is difficult and requires sacrifice. When parents and kids realize this is serious and implies taking responsibilities, then they move on to something easier. The selection number has gone down tremendously, it’s almost inexistent. Even for this sport, which has brought in constant satisfaction and medals, it’s becoming difficult to find talent and get where we want to be. During my trips and especially during my two years in Italy, I noticed almost all countries have this sport education, regardless of age. It doesn’t have to be elite sport. Instead, we turn back when it’s becoming difficult. And what gymnastics has taught us is the exact opposite: when it’s difficult, you have to work harder. This is how you win, this sport shows you what discipline is, educates you, makes you responsible, as any other sport. And I can’t blame it entirely on the kids. Us adults, we always complain there is not enough money, we’re not getting the right pay and so we’re given up. Unfortunately, this happens in all sports and at all levels. But those who do manage to have top level results are well rewarded financially. Not many people manage to achieve at 19-20 what these girls have managed to achieve. It’s true they’re not as well paid as football or tennis players but we can say that those kids, who have reached the highest levels, have achieved something. They have houses, cars, their annuity but they still need to do something…

AGERPRES: How do you see this sport today?

Liliana Cosma: I remember hundreds of kids used to line up for selection at the Deva center in the past. We had three classes of girls schooled here, around 90 overall. I know many kids went home crying, because they hadn’t been selected. Now, we only have one class including Artistic, Aerobic gymnastics and swimming. And again, if we feel bad and keep crying about this, we will not solve anything. We have to make the best of what we have. There are many things people do not know and they judge you on this, but we are not investing in gymnastics. I only hope that there are still kids and parents in Romania who understand that elite sport educates and prepares you for life. Let’s also see what’s positive in sport, not only the difficult side of it. It’s a tough society and why not let kids take a road we know will lead them to the light. We’ll do our best to find these kids.

Original interview in Romanian by Agerpres’ Sebastian Olaru here.