Elena Leusteanu – The First Lady of Romanian Gymnastics

August 2008. The whole world was preparing for the big celebration of the sport, the celebration of peace and success: the Olympic Games. In Romania, both specialists and fans were hoping that, in spite of the modest results obtained in 2007, the Olympics would bring recognition for the Romanians, especially in those sports which traditionally placed our country among the very first the world.
For the Romanian artistic gymnastics, the Olympics in Beijing were about to be the greatest challenge of the last years, given the latest changes at the national team in Deva and the continuously reduced number of young gymnasts training at the gyms throughout the country.

It happened in 2008…

Just a couple of months before the Olympics, a previous Olympic medallist was expressing her wish of seeing the Olympics again, hoping that gymnastics, the sport which brought her so many satisfactions, would register another success for our country. “I wish I could live to see the Olympics! The girls are so little and they have their own problems. I wish them good luck!” (article Gazeta Sporturilor). And indeed, despite being 73 and having a pancreatic tumour, Elena Leusteanu-Popescu-Teodorescu had the chance to live, once more, the joy of the Olympic spirit. She probably celebrated, if allowed by her health, the success of the Romanian bronze won in the women team competition by a completely new generation of gymnasts.

The beginning…

Elena Leusteanu

Elena Lehniuc was born in Cernauti (in the later Republic of Moldova) in 1935. At the age of 8 she and her family moved to Brasov. Facing the risk of being deported to Siberia due to their origins, the father of the future gymnast changed the family name into Leusteanu. A name which, after years, was to become known all over the world, getting written, through extraordinary performances, the first page of Romanian gymnastics (article Cronica Romana).
When Elena was 17 years old, an unlucky event occured: during a gymnastics camp in Brasov, a fire started and as an only solution of getting out she jumped over the window. Doing this from the second floor of the building, she fractured her back.
Because of that, she had to stay outside the gym for nine months. This, however, did not significantly affect her career. Two years later, in 1954, Elena Leusteanu participated in her first international competition, the World Championships in Rome. Romania finished 4th in the team competition, while Elena placed 5th in the all around and qualified for the vault finals.

The success…

Elena Leustean

At the Olympic Games in Melbourne (1956), Elena Leusteanu-Popescu (after marriage) led the Romanian team composed by Georgeta Hurmuzachi, Sonia Iovan, Elena Margarit, Elena Sacalici and Emilia Vatasoiu, to an extremely valuable bronze medal, this being in fact the first Olympic medal for our country. With a total of 438,20 points, Romania was surpassed only by USSR ( 444,80 points) and Hungary (443,50 points).
Our gymnast finished the all-around competition very close to the podium, on 4th place, behind Larissa Latynina (USSR), Agnes Keleti (Hungary) and Sofia Muratova (USSR). After finishing 6th in the vault and beam finals, Elena Leusteanu made again history, winning the first individual Olympic medal for Romania, a country which, 20 years later, starting with Nadia Comaneci, was going to have a decisive contribution in the world women artistic gymnastics.
Her value has been reconfirmed later, during the following competitions. Having the chance to compete in the only – so far – big gymnastics competition organised in Romania (European Championships in Bucharest, in 1957), Elena won three silver medals in the all-around, uneven bars and floor finals.
In the same year, at the World Championships in Moscow, the Romanian team (Elena Leusteanu-Popescu, Elena Dobrovolschi-Niculescu, Anastasia Ionescu, Sonia Iovan, Emilia Lita, and Ileana Petrosanu) brought home another bronze medal. At the Europeans in Cracow, in 1959, Elena won other two silver medals, in the uneven bars and all-around competitions.
The only medal obtained by our gymnasts at the Olympic Games in 1960 was a bronze in the team competition, along with two 6th and a 5th positions obtained by Sonia Iovan on floor, uneven bars and vault, respectively. Elena finished only 11th in the all-around competition (full results here). One year later, at the Europeans in Leipzig, Elena placed 5th on floor, 4th on uneven bars and 6th all-around. At the last big competition she participated in, the Olympic Games in Tokyo, 1964, the young woman of 29 placed 20th in the all-around and 6th in the team competition, together with her colleagues: Sonia Iovan, Elena Ceampelea, Atanasia Ionescu, Emilia Lita si Cristina Dobosan.
The record of her career: 3 Olympic bronze medals, one world bronze medal and 5 silver European medals.

Floor exercise podium Melbourne 1956 (the last seconds of the video)

Elena Leusteanu – Melbourne 1956
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Last public appearance….

Years later, Elena Leusteanu became a lecturer in Sports and Exercise science at the Technical University of Civil Engineering in Bucharest. Her last public appearance was in 2006, at the 100 years Gala of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, together with a big part of our gymnastics champions throughout the years.

Gala of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation – 2006 (minute 02:10)

On August 16, 2008 our first Olympic gymnastics medallist left us. A star fell that day…but the day after a new star rose on the Romanian gymnastics sky: Sandra Izbasa won the Olympic gold medal in the floor exercise final, with a performance which seemed to celebrate the past glory of Elena Leusteanu.

God may rest Elena in peace!

Fangymnastics Team

One Response to Elena Leusteanu – The First Lady of Romanian Gymnastics

  1. […] the following outstanding gymnasts: Elena Dobrovolschi-Fodor, Geta Hurmuzachi, Sonia Iovan, Elena Leustean, Elena Sacalici and Emilia Vatasoiu. In an era when the political domination of the USSR also […]

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