Viorica Daniela Silivaș-Harper, better known as Daniela Silivas, is a former Romanian gymnast who won seven world titles and three Olympic titles. One of the most popular gymnasts in the history of the sports, she burst into the international scene by winning a gold medal at the 1985 World Championships. Over the next few years she dazzled the world with her brilliant performances in several international sporting events. She won medal in every event she competed in at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, clinching a total of six medals, including three golds, two silver and one bronze Her interest in gymnastics took root when she was just five years old. After watching the performance of Nadia Comaneci on television, the little girl was mesmerized and requested her parents to let her learn the sport. Thus her training in gymnastics began under the legendary Béla Károlyi who laid the foundation for young Daniela’s future success. She started out winning the championships in her school and went on to win the Romanian Junior National Championship. Soon she entered international competitions and established herself as a very successful gymnast. Now retired, she enjoys a career as a gymnastics coach.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born on May 9, 1972 in Deva, Transylvania. Her fascination with gymnastics began early on in her childhood. She realized her own interest in the sport after watching Nadia Comaneci, the iconic Romanian gymnast, on television.
She was around five and a half years old when she took part in a selection procedure conducted by the legendary gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi. She was full of energy and enthusiasm like most kids of her age. But what differentiated her from the others was her agility and flexibility.
Karolyi recognized the little girl’s potential and trained her in gymnastics. However, she trained under him for only six months as thereafter Karolyi left for America.
She was an active participant in her school’s sporting activities and won the school’s championships in 1980. The next year she won the Romanian Junior National Championship, a feat she repeated in 1982 as well.
She went on to participate in several junior meets and displayed a stellar performance at the 1984 Junior European Championships where she won the balance beam title, earned silver medals on the uneven bars and floor exercise, and was placed 4th in the all-around.
She also performed exceptionally well at the 1984 Junior Friendship Tournament (Druzhba) where she won gold medals in the all-around and uneven bars. This competition had been a difficult one as it also featured future Olympic and World champions Svetlana Boguinskaya, Aurelia Dobre and Dagmar Kersten.
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She was just 13 when she started displaying great potential as a senior career gymnast. However, according to rules, only gymnasts with the age of 15 and above could participate in the senior events. Thus the Romanian Gymnastics Federation changed her birth year from 1972 to 1970 to make her eligible for participation in the World Championships in Montreal.
She participated at the 1985 World Championship pretending to be a 15-year-old. This was her perfect opportunity to follow in her idol Nadia’s footsteps and she made the best of this chance. She scored a perfect 10 on the beam, winning her first world title and defeating the reigning Olympic champion on the event, Ecaterina Szabo. In the all-around competition she finished behind Russia's Elena Shushunova.
The next year she continued her dominance and finished behind the reigning Champion Yelena Shushunova in the individual all-around at the 1986 World Cup and soon established herself as the leader of the Romanian gymnastics team.
She once again displayed her brilliance at the 1987 World Championships in Rotterdam by helping her squad win the team title, defeating the formidable world champion Soviet team for the first time since 1979. She also won two gold medals, on the uneven bars and the floor, in the event finals.
She was considered one of the biggest favorites at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. She gave a blazing performance at the games. She won a total of six medals at the Olympics: gold medals in uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise; silver medal in team and all-around; and bronze medal in the Vault. She also equaled Nadia Comăneci's record of seven perfect 10.0 scores in a single Olympic competition and became the only gymnast in Seoul to win medals on every single event in all three competitions (team, all-around and event finals).
She was at the peak of her form but unfortunately she suffered a serious knee injury in 1989 which affected her career. In spite of this, she was able to successfully defend her floor exercise title at the European Championships and won silver medal in all-around and uneven bars and bronze medal in the balance beam.
In the 1989 World Championship held in Sttutgart, she won a total of four medals: three gold medals in uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise, and a silver medal in team event.
She underwent surgery on her knee and hoped to return to the sport soon, but the Romanian Revolution of 1989 closed the National Training Center at Deva, forcing her illustrious career to an end.
She announced her formal retirement from the sport in 1991 and moved to the United States and entered a new phase in her career as a as a gymnastics coach.
Awards & Achievements
In 2002, Silivaș was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, becoming the youngest gymnast ever to receive this honor, a record she holds till date.
Personal Life & Legacy
She married Scott Harper, a sports management graduate, in May 2003. The couple has three children—one daughter and two sons.