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Daniela Silivas: My Friend Told Me I Earned The Gold But They Gave It To Her"

Daniela Silivas has inspired many gymnastics fans and set the bar high for generations of gymnasts to come. With 3 Olympic gold medals, 10...

Daniela Silivas has inspired many gymnastics fans and set the bar high for generations of gymnasts to come. With 3 Olympic gold medals, 10 World Champion titles and 23 Perfect 10s in her bag. My feelings are beyond what words can describe when Daniela who is considered to be one of the best gymnasts of all time agreed to be interviewed by us. Indeed, above her outstanding achievements, her humility and graciousness is what makes Daniela ‘Daniela’. 

Valerie: You were selected to train in artistic gymnastics at age 6, and later became one of the most successful gymnast in history. What do you think are your strengths as a gymnast?

Silivas: My coaches always told me that I had a lot of talent but I knew how to work hard too.

Valerie: You must have endured many hardships to become one of the greatest stars in gymnastics. Do you have any role models or motivations to keep you moving forward?

Silivas: During my time in the national team I always had the support of my teammates and coaches. They were my family!!! My love for the sport kept me in the gym even on those bad and hard days!!!!

Valerie: During your career, fans were impressed by your innovative skills and difficulty, and I was particularly impressed by your Silivas beam mount. How was that skill created?

Silivas: During our free time in the gym I liked playing on the beam (yeah, I know it's weird). During those play days I came up with the shoulder skill.

Valerie: And despite doing and inventing many skills, what were your favorite skills on each apparatus? 

Silivas: I've never liked vault!!! On bars it was the Stalder combination, beam front aerial and floor the Silivas.

Valerie: Many gymnasts trained exceptionally difficult skills but did not perform them during competitions due to consistency issue. Were there skills which you trained but never performed?

Silivas: I never competed full-in dismount on beam even though I trained that skill for years. Also on floor it was double layout.

Valerie: The 1985 Worlds in Montreal was your first big assignment, and you won a gold medal individually. That was also a very special competitions because old names, such as Ecaterina Szabo, Olga Mostepanova and Natalia Yurchenko was there; also, new stars, such as Yelena Shushunova, Oksana Omelianchik, Eugenia Golea, and you, were born. What were your impressions of that Championships Meet?

Silivas: I don't remember much from my first worlds. I was so young and didn't know what to expect. I'm glad I had my teammates there to guide me through the competition and cheer for me and happy with winning the gold on beam.

Valerie: You have mentioned previously that the 1987 World Championships team was your favorite. Please use one word to describe each your teammates: Ecaterina Szabo, Eugenia Golea, Camellia Voinea, Celestina Popa, Aurelia Dobre, and of course, Daniela Silivas. And how will you describe the bonding of the team?

Silivas: Szabo- kind , Golea - lovable, Popa- smiley , Voinea- serious,Dobre-funny, Silivas –Silly.

In my opinion 87 team was the best team. Not just in the competition .We were so united in practice and outside gymnastics. They are my sisters and after 28 years we are still close. We trained together and lived together for years.

Valerie: One of your most famous battles must be the 1988 all-around competition, in which you and Shushunova earned back-to-back perfect 10s. This is a photo I found, and it was taken right after you finished your last vault and right before Shushunova did hers. What was going through your mind in that scene? (photo seen below)

Silvia: Looking at the picture I remember all too well how I felt. I already knew I lost the gold!! I sent the picture to my best friend Justin and he wrote me back this "You didn't really lose gold, everyone was afraid of the Soviets. You earned the gold, but they gave it to her. What did she do with it? Nothing... You came back the next day and beat the shit out of everyone... No one has done what you did in 27 years... Now I ask, who is the real Olympic champion? We all know..." He always know how to make me feel special!!!

Valerie: During the 1988 Olympics, you set a record of earning 7 perfect 10s in an Olympics, and medaled on every event, which 3 were gold medals. Was this success expected? What was the most important factor contributing to this huge success? And how were you received by your country for your success?

We trained like we want to be the best. I went into the competition knowing that I can win so of course I was disappointed with silver. (Now I realize how amazing it is to just compete in the Olympics) Of course event finals was the best day for me. All I wanted to do was show that I can be the best and I was so happy winning all those medals!! I think it's so important to train like you want to compete!! You can't go into training and say I will try better in competition. We train for perfection every day. Everybody was so happy for us back home. What we were happy was that we can go home and see our families for few days.

Valerie: Scoring was also an issue in the 1988 Olympics. During the all-around finals, your scores topped Shushunova, but you narrowly missed the gold due to her higher prelims scores. After 1988, they introduced the New Life Rule, which would have made you win if this rule was introduced in 1988. Also, during your vault in the all-around, you received a controversially low score (9.8). Did such issue affect your motivation?

To tell you the truth I didn't realize about those rules until years later when I moved to Atlanta and somebody explained to me. I didn't know at the time and after knowing that, it didn't make any sense to get mad.

Valerie: During your career, you come across many rivals, internally and externally. How is your relationship with these athletes?

Silivas: Ecaterina Szabo
Kati has been someone that I looked up to when I was younger and now is one of my best friends. We talk on the phone weekly and always see each other on our Romanian vacation. 
Aurelia Dobre
Aurelia was my teammate and roommate from age 10 to 19. We trained together every day and spent all our days together at the junior and senior team.
Elena Shushunova
With Elena I've never talked and don't know anything about her life after gymnastics.

Valerie: Svetlana Boginskaya, who competed back-to-back with you at your last World Championships?

Silivas: Hahaha in the last few years we became such close friends!! I can talk to her about everything and we have so much fun when we are together.

Valerie: You were hugely successful during the 1988 Olympics, and was still very competitive in 1989. Did you ever consider trying for the 1992 Olympics?

Silivas: I was really tired when I decided to retire from gymnastics. I knew I would not be the best so I didn't see any reason to stay and compete.

Valerie: If there are things you would want to change in your career, what would they be?

Silivas: I think everything happens for a reason so I wouldn't change a thing. I'm happy with my gymnastics career and it helped be the person I am today.

Valerie: You competed during the era of the old code of points, and you were very successful by earning many perfect 10s. Do you prefer the old code or the new one, and what do you think of today’s gymnastics?

Silivas: I like the old scoring better than today. A lot of things hasn't change. It really amazes me that they still do a lot of skills that we did 25-27 years ago. They do a lot of new jumps and turns but that's about it.

Valerie: During these recent years, the Romanian team often missed top placements due to weaknesses on the uneven bars. However, during your years, Romanians were great on bars….

Silivas: We started being great on bars after coach Adrian Stan came to national team. He is the best bars coach in the world. You can see the change in Great Britain's team how good they became after he moved there.

Valerie: And do you think that the Romanians still have what it takes to win top spots?

Silivas: They need to understand that it takes a lot of work to become the best. We didn't have weekends off or long vacations even when I was training at Deva club. And I think they need to put a lot of effort in the clubs programs. That's where everything's starts. If the club coaches are appreciated like the national team coaches I think a lot more will stay in Romania and coach.

Valerie: I have also read that you still keep in rouch with the younger generations of Romanian gymnasts after you retired. Which gymnast(s), in your opinion, resemble(s) you the most?

Silivas: I like to keep in touch a lot of gymnast from different generations. When I go home I always spend time in the gym in Deva and try to visit the national team. For the question of who resemble me the most you should ask my coaches. (Hahaha)

Valerie: I have heard that you prefer not to coach children up to the Olympic level, why is that so?

Silivas: In order to coach elite level you really have to dedicate yourself to the sport. I choose to coach lower level so I can spend more time with my family. I also love to go home and see my family and friends. 

Valerie: Your daughter, Ava, is already showing huge potential despite her tender years. Will you support her to go for greater achievements, say, the Olympics?

Silivas: Ava loves gymnastics!! I always tell her it's her gymnastics not mine. I will support her as long as she still loves it. It's a very hard sport and I think in order to put 100 percent into it every day you have to love it.

Valerie: From a gymnast to now a coach, what do you think are the best things about gymnastics?

Silivas: Gymnastics taught me so much. It made me the person I am today. I learned from a younger age to work for my dream and to have goals in life. It was hard work but I had amazing people around me that helped me not to give up. It gave me lifetime friends!!

Interview by Valerie-Valya Theodora Ko

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