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Larisa Iordache, once Simone Biles’ top rival, qualifies for Olympics in last chance

2020 European Championships in Women's Artistic Gymnastics

MERSIN, TURKEY - DECEMBER 17: Larisa Andreea Iordache of Romania performs during Senior qualifications of 2020 European Championships in Women’s Artistic Gymnastics in Mersin, Turkey on December 17, 2020. (Photo by Serkan Avci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Romanian gymnast Larisa Iordache, who has come the closest to beating Simone Biles in the all-around at a major championship (in 2014), came back from Achilles surgeries to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in her last (and only) opportunity.

Iordache finished fourth in qualifying at the European Championships in Switzerland, where two Olympic spots were available.

But the top three were all Russians, and a nation could only earn one Olympic spot at Euros. Iordache moved up to claim the second and final Olympic spot.

“Probably if I was asked this three years ago, if I would try and qualify for Tokyo, I would say no,” she said before Euros, according to the International Gymnastics Federation. “But I would not have taken this step if I had not been determined to return to the highest level.”

Iordache, 24, finished .466 behind Biles at the 2014 World Championships. Biles’ other three world titles and her Olympic gold were all won by at least eight tenths of a point.

But Iordache, the last remaining link to Romania’s storied women’s gymnastics history -- 10 straight Olympic team medals from 1976 through 2012, missed the Rio Olympics after the nation failed to qualify a full team.

She went to Brazil as an alternate to the one female gymnast selected for Romania, triple 2004 Olympic champion Catalina Ponor.

Iordache then tore an Achilles warming up for qualifying at the 2017 World Championships and went three years and at least three surgeries until her next competition.

“I went through a lot of difficult moments,” Iordache said via email through Romania’s gymnastics federation in 2020, “but I never gave up to the idea of doing gymnastics. It was hard to perish so long, but now I’m fine. I can say that I like what I do so much, so I decided to give myself another chance to prove myself that I can do it.”

Romania again failed to qualify a full team for Tokyo, but Iordache is one of two individual female artistic gymnasts who will represent the nation this summer.

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