by Anna Rose Johnson

Perseverance: It’s a word that aptly sums up the journey and mentality of 21-year-old Larisa Iordache, a Romanian veteran whose performances have inspired the gymnastics world with their courage and vitality.

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Bounding onto the major international scene in 2012, Larisa was often hailed as “the new Nadia” and acclaimed for her refreshing combination of artistry and power. Over the next few years, Larisa literally and figuratively made leaps and bounds in the sport. A World bronze medal on floor in 2013 was quickly followed up by 2014 European team gold and the all-around silver at 2014 Worlds. Despite injuries and a myriad of changes in gymnastics—from an altered Code of Points to challenges for the Romanian team program—Larisa managed to press on and stay at the top of her sport, winning a succession of medals at World Championships.

Disaster struck in 2016, however. A finger injury prevented Larisa from competing at the Olympics, where she was a favorite for several medals. Nevertheless, she rebounded magnificently the following summer at the 2017 Universiade in Taipei, winning the all-around gold among a competitive field of collegiate athletes. “The most beautiful memory for me in 2017 was… when I managed to conquer the gold medal [in Taipei],” says Larisa, who was elected to carry the Romanian flag in the opening ceremonies.

“2017 was a good [year] for me,” she adds. “I managed to recover after a long break [and] I’m glad I could compete again!”

With the possibility of beam and all-around golds at 2017 Worlds, Larisa was excited heading into Montreal. But a torn Achilles tendon in warmups derailed her dreams, and she underwent two operations after the competition.

Some athletes might have retired from the sport after such a devastating injury, but Larisa was determined to persist. Her recovery is currently progressing well, and she says she continues to feel “better and better” as she pursues another comeback.

“I want to get back,” declares Larisa. “I can use my leg as before. I want to compete if I feel like [the recovery is] coming [along nicely] with my leg.” While she’s uncertain about her 2018 competition schedule because of the recovery process, Larisa’s “objective this year is to get back to normal and to move like before!”

This is not the first time Larisa has had to fight through a difficult time. In addition to her many comebacks from injuries, Larisa also had to rally her team after a disappointing qualification round at 2015 Worlds. Depleted by injury in the lead-up to Worlds, the Romanian team missed qualifying to the team final. But Larisa found a way to set aside her disappointment and rise to the challenge of competing in the all-around final, winning the bronze behind Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas. It was a definite “wow” moment, according to Larisa. “I did not think I could do that,” she remembers. “I tried to enjoy the contest and to be able to bring my smile back to my team.”

As one of the leaders of the Romanian team, Larisa gives valuable advice to the younger gymnasts, telling them to “take advantage of each opportunity”—a motto that has served Larisa well in her lengthy career.

For now, this champion is taking her comeback one day at a time, not wanting to rush her recovery process. She’s not sure which upgrades she’ll incorporate in her upcoming routines, since she’s had to start from scratch after her Achilles surgeries. But you can be certain that her next floor routine will be another celebrated Iordache masterpiece, with her trademark dance and powerful music. “I really like to make new choreographies on [floor],” says Larisa. “One day I get choreographed and then all the [elements] are improved [later on].”

And while Larisa is focusing on the present, she says the 2020 Olympics are also on her mind. It’s only two and a half years until the torch is lit in Tokyo, and Larisa is eager to keep polishing her skills as she tumbles toward that elusive Olympic gold.

Fun Facts about Larisa

Favorite Color:
“I like purple!”

Favorite Country to Visit:
USA (especially New York)

“I have a puppy”

Favorite Social Media Site:
“I really like Instagram”

Outside the Gym
“I like to go to college, [and spend time] with my family!”