April 13, 2016Now coaching in the US, the celebrated Olympic star talks to UEG about life after gymnastics, the upcoming test event and Olympic Games.
For anyone who loves gymnastics Daniela Silivas needs no introduction. The charming Romanian is a living legend who combined great difficulty with amazing artistry. Bursting onto the scene at the 1985 World Championships in Montreal where she scored a perfect 10 on her way to the World title on beam, Silivas revealed in 2002 she was only 13 at the time. She was handed a passport with a new birthdate and was send off to compete with the seniors, the age limit was 15 then. Her most successful year was in 1987 when she dominated the European Championships in the lion’s den, Moscow. She left with gold medals in the all-around, on bars, beam and floor, and a silver on vault! At the 1987 World Championships Silivas led the Romanian team to the World title, defeating their big rivals the Soviet Union for the first time since 1979. An uncharacteristic fall from beam in qualifications and a shaky bars routine took her out of the running for the World all-around title, which went to her teammate Aurelia Dobre. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul she became a true star, equalling Nadia Comaneci’s record of 7 perfect scores and returning to Romania with 6 medals: 3 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze, the only gymnast to win a medal in each event.
After the collapse of Communism, Silivas moved to the US. She works a coach in the state of Georgia, got married and had 3 kids: 2 boys and a girl. Here are her insights into Romania’s chances at the test event, her Olympic feelings and many other things!
UEG: Can you talk us through what happened in your life after your gymnastics career?
Silivas: After the Romanian Revolution in 1990 I decided to retire. Things had drastically changed in Romania and I was ready for the next chapter in my life. I never thought I would be living in the United States, but I came here after some friends encouraged me to try.
UEG: You won 3 gold medals in event finals at the 1988 Olympics but narrowly missed out on the All-around victory. How do you look back on that competition?
Silivas: For me, the 1988 Olympics was a great competition. I don’t look back with regret, I look back with pride in my performances. I did my job there and wherever the judges placed me was their job. I accomplished a lot at that Olympics, I am very proud to have 6 Olympic Medals and a skill named after me. It feels good when I meet fans that say that I inspired them to start gymnastics. For example, my best friend Justen was watching the Olympics and had never seen gymnastics before. He watched me vault and decided that he wanted to try gymnastics. Years later we met and he explained to me how I had inspired him to start a path in gymnastics. Moments like this help me look back at Seoul with pride. There are times that I look back with sorrow, but only because of what I couldn’t control.
UEG: How did you experience the Olympic Games, in the gym, but also life in the Village and all the buzz around it?
Silivas: The Olympics are always a very special event for anyone that is involved. Back in 1988, Romania was still a communist country and we were under the watchful eye of the Securitate [Romanian secret police]. My teammates were like my sisters, so we experienced everything together. Anywhere that we went, we had to have a guard with us. It seems strange to me now, but back then it was just life. We didn’t know anything different.
UEG: The perfect 10 has been gone from gymnastics for 10 years now. Do you like the open-end scoring system? What are the advantages/disadvantages of both?
Silivas: I am a fan of old school gymnastics. Always working and striving towards that perfect 10.00 score. In this era, we see an increase in difficulty, but I also believe there is a decrease in execution and form. Gymnasts and coaches now have a different mentality, thinking more about the D score and less about the E score. We used to have compulsory exercises, the elements had to be executed to textbook to avoid deduction. Now, everything is open to interpretation.
UEG: You recently posted a photo of you and your daughter performing the same scale on beam. What advice do you give to her? Does she realise what a great gymnast her mum was?
Silivas: I always want her to experience the happiness of gymnastics. I want her to find her own wings and have the opportunity to do what she wants. We don’t really talk about my career as a gymnast, but recently she has been watching YouTube videos of me and asking about the competitions.
UEG: With Larisa Iordache out of the test event due to injury, what do you think of Romania’s chances to qualify to the Olympics as a team?
Silivas: The injury to Larisa is devastating to the Romanian team. I was fortunate enough to spend time in Romania last summer and to be able to watch the juniors training in Deva. The girls must remember to fight, not just for themselves, but for the tradition of Romanian Gymnastics. I believe that in competition you can have any result, you never know what can happen. These girls must remember to fight for everything, if they do that I believe they can qualify as a team to Rio.
UEG: What are your predictions for the Rio Olympics? Which competition are you looking for to most, and why?
Silivas: Living in the United States and being a coach here, I understand the system they have in place. The Americans will be the team to beat in Rio and the All-Around Final will be a showcase of their top stars.
UEG: What’s your favorite moment in gymnastics? And in life in general?
Silivas: My favorite memory in gymnastics was winning the All-Around Gold Medal at the 1987 European Championships in Moscow, USSR. To travel to the Soviet Union and perform in front of their home crowd and win was a feeling I will never forget. Not to mention the huge crystal vase I received that weighed nearly more than I did! The 1987 World Championships Team Gold Medal also stands out in my mind. I have so many great memories, it’s difficult to narrow it down to just one. I have many life memories, to pick just one is equally difficult. My marriage to my husband Scott Harper, the birth of my three wonderful children. My family and friends. I feel so lucky and blessed to have such an amazing life!
UEG: How do you feel when you see a gymnast performing one of the skills named after you?
Silivas: I am honored when I see a gymnast performing one of my skills from 28 years ago. I remember the feeling of performing on much different equipment. The floors and beams are much different now compared to then!
UEG: You are known for your expression, dance, difficulty and great execution. What do you think of women’s artistic gymnastics nowadays? Is there a skill now that you wished you would have performed?
Silivas: Gymnastics in this era is mainly based on the D score. While I was a gymnast that performed difficult skills, I also had to maintain a high level of artistry. My routines were difficult enough to start from a 10.00, so there where many skills that were more difficult that I could perform, but I had no reason to. I never competed them internationally, but I did perform a double layout on floor and a full in dismount on beam.
Thank you so much Daniela!
Photos : Daniela Silivas-Harper