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Romania back on top

After a disappointing patch, Romania delivered a taste of its former glory by claiming the team title at the women's European gymnastics championships in the French town of Clermont-Ferrand, while France delighted the home crowd with bronze.

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Steliana Nistor and Sandra Izbasa kept their wits about them to lead Romania to the team title at the women's European gymnastics championships on Saturday.


Romania had looked to be on a downward turn when they were upstaged by Italy at the 2006 Europeans and failed to get on the podium at the world championships just a few months later.


On Saturday, however, Romania's gymnasts showed that they should not be written off from successfully defending their Olympic team crown in Beijing in August when they eclipsed their nearest rivals by more than two points.


Romania finished with 181.525, while Russia had to make do with silver after scrappy performances on the floor left them with a combined total of 179.475.


France gave the home fans plenty to cheer about by taking the bronze,their first European women's team medal.


A thumping performance on the floor by Vanessa Ferrari on the floor could do little to prevent Italy from relinquishing their hold on the continental title. They finished fourth. Ukraine, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands completed the top eight.


Before the championships, Romanian coach Nicolae Forminte had ominously declared: "Romanian gymnastics is in crisis."


With the European title back in his country's possession for the first time since 2004, Forminte told Reuters: "I have no doubts that Romania will get the Olympic gold again."


Romania trailed in Russia and France after their first rotation on the asymmetric bars, which has traditionally been their weakest apparatus.


But by the time Izbasa, Nistor and Adriana Tamirjan had showed off their complex balancing skills on the beam and nailed their double twisting dismounts, they were firmly on the path to glory.


The Romanians completed a clean sweep of the top three marks on the beam, with Tamirjan leading the way. She earned 15.575 for her quick-footed flips and summersaults.


Izbasa had been the top qualifier on the floor and she did not disappoint in the final. Her score of 15.750 was even better than she had earned in qualifying as she effortlessly pulled off a series of high tumbling combinations.


Such was her level of concentration that she did not even flinch when the audience gasped after an Italian competitor had spectacularly fallen off the bars while Izbasa was in mid-flow in her floor exercise.


The Russians effectively surrendered their title hopes when Ksenia Semenova was penalised for stepping out of the area during her floor performance and her namesake Ksenia Afanaseva banged her head and ended up in a foetal position on the mat after she mistimed her final tumble.


Their combined score of 43.850 on the floor put them two points behind the Romanians after three rotations and they could not close the gap on the final apparatus.

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