Viorica Daniela Silivaş-Harper (born May 9, 1972), best known as Daniela Silivaş, is a Romanian gymnast who is most famous for winning six medals (three gold, two silver, and one bronze) in women's artistic gymnastics at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea.
Silivaş began training in gymnastics at the age of 6 and was one of her country's most promising gymnasts before she was 13 years old. After excelling in junior international competitions, Romanian officials falsified her passport, changing her year of birth from 1972 to 1970, so she could participate in senior-level meets, including the 1985 World Championships.
In her five year tenure as a member of the Romanian senior national team, Silivaş earned six individual World Championships titles as well the 1987 European Championships all-around title. She was the only gymnast, male or female, to medal in every single event at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, where she earned 7 perfect 10.0 scores.
In 1989, Silivaş's training was hampered by the closure of the Deva National Training Center during the Romanian Revolution and further impeded by a knee injury. She formally retired in 1991 and moved to the United States, where she currently enjoys a career as a gymnastics coach.
However, Silivaş did not linger for long in the junior ranks. In 1985, the Romanian Gymnastics Federation changed her birth year from 1972 to 1970 to make her age eligible for the World Championships in Montreal. The falsification was suspected by some, but was never fully verified until Silivaş herself revealed it in 2002. She stated that she was never consulted about the matter: officials simply gave her a new passport, called her attention to the birthdate, and informed her that she was now fifteen.
Although she was only thirteen at the 1985 Worlds, Silivaş scored a perfect 10 en route to capturing the World balance beam title; defeating the reigning Olympic Champion, her fellow countrywoman, Ecaterina Szabo, in the process. She finished behind reigning co-World Champion Yelena Shushunova in the individual all-around at the 1986 World Cup and quickly established herself as the leader of the Romanian gymnastics team.
Silivaş's greatest triumph took place at the 1987 European Gymnastics Championships in Moscow, where she won the individual all-around, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise titles in addition to taking a silver medal on the vault. At the time, every single dominant nation in women's gymnastics was located in Europe; winning the European title over the deep field of powerful Soviet, East German and Bulgarian gymnasts marked a major victory.
At the 1987 World Championships in Rotterdam, Silivaş helped the Romanian squad win the team title, defeating the nearly invincible world champion Soviet team for the first time since 1979. She was a favorite for the all-around title, but, hampered by low scores carried over from the team optionals, where she had stepped off the balance beam, as well as a shaky uneven bars routine in the all-around, she only managed to win the bronze medal behind teammate Aurelia Dobre and 1985 World Champion Shushunova. In the event finals, Silivaş did win two gold medals, on the uneven bars and the floor.
At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Silivaş, along with Dobre and Shushunova, was considered a heavy favorite for the all-around title. In the team competition, Romania finished second to the Soviet squad.
The stage was set for the all-around, with a hotly anticipated battle between Silivaş, the technician and dancer; and Shushunova, the powerhouse and tumbler. Both gymnasts turned in especially strong performances. Both Silivaş and Shushunova received perfect 10.0 scores on floor; Shushunova received her second 10.0 on vault; Silivaş received hers on the uneven bars. Silivaş was in the lead entering the final rotation, but a score of 9.950 on the vault dropped her to second place behind Shushunova by only 0.025.
The all-around duel between Silivaş and Shushunova is widely acknowledged to have been one of the finest contests in the history of the sport, not to mention most hotly debated. In particular, Silivaş' score on vault came under scrutiny. Of the six judges on the panel, three marked her first vault as a perfect 10.0; two others gave her 9.9s. The Soviet judge on the panel Nellie Kim, however, only scored Silivaş at a 9.8. On her second vault attempt Silivaş took a hop on her landing; all six judges gave her 9.9s. Silivaş was visibly upset after Shushunova's scores were posted and at the medal ceremony; according to a report in International Gymnast, her comment on the competition was "after my last vault, I thought maybe I should be the champion." However, she did not argue the results publicly. Her former coach, Bela Károlyi, noted, "This kid had the honesty and decency to shut up. She didn’t want to say ‘I’m better’ because she knows Shushunova is the Olympic champion but she couldn’t praise a rival. So she just didn’t say a word. These kids have more decency than all the judges and coaches in the world."
In spite of the controversy, no score protests were ever filed by Silivaş, her coaches or her Federation, and no disciplinary measures were taken against any of the judges. In addition, even though Kim's first mark was considered questionable by many fans, it did not actually figure into Silivaş' final score: in 1988, the highest and lowest marks of the panel were dropped; the final score was the average of the remaining four marks. Also, in spite of her vault score, Silivaş' cumulative overall all-around total was actually higher than that of Shushunova: if the competition had been held under the New Life rule, she would have won.
Silivaş returned in the event finals to win gold medals on the uneven bars, floor and beam, well as bronze in the vault behind Soviet Svetlana Boguinskaya (gold) and teammate Gabriela Potorac (silver). In the process, she became the only gymnast in Seoul to win medals on every single event in all three competitions (team, all-around and event finals). She also equaled Nadia Comaneci's record of seven perfect 10.0 scores in a single Olympic competition.
Silivaş works full-time as a gymnastics coach in Sandy Springs, Georgia. In May 2003, she married Scott Harper, a sports management graduate living in the Atlanta area. The couple have two children: a son, Jadan Scott, born April 8, 2004; and a daughter, Ava Luciana, born November 8, 2005. The Harpers reside in Marietta, Georgia
The hallmarks of Silivaş' gymnastics were her impeccable form and execution, difficulty and expressive dance. Many of the skills she performed in the 1988 Olympics still carry high difficulty ratings in the 2007 Code of Points. Between 1985 and 1988, the highlights of Silivaş' routines included: