Girl with the golden oars
A golden generation
With 37 medals – 19 of them gold – Romania is among the most successful ever nations in the Olympic rowing events. That success is due in very large measure to four exceptional female rowers: Elisabeta Lipa, Doina Ignat, Viorica Susanu and Georgeta Andrunache (nee Damian). This quartet dominated their events in the late 1990s and throughout the first decade of the new millennium. Andrunache, the youngest of the four, competed in four editions of the Games between Sydney in 2000 and London 2012, winning five gold medals in the eights and the coxless pairs; together with Lipa, she holds the joint record for the most Olympic titles won by an oarswoman.
Triumph in Sydney
On 23 September 2000 in Penrith, which was the centre for the rowing, kayak and canoe events in Sydney, Damian and Ignat found themselves up against reigning Olympic champions Missy Ryan and Karen Kraft in the final of the women’s coxless pairs. However, the American duo were no match for the Romanians who powered across the line 1.5 seconds ahead of them to claim gold.
Golden hat-trick in the pairs
Damian went on to form a partnership with Viorica Susanu, and together they set a new 2000m world record at the 2002 World Championships with a time of 6.53.80. The duo carried that form into the Olympic Games in Athens two years later. In the coxless pairs final on 14 August 2004 in Schinias, they launched a powerful break at the halfway mark to which the pursuing British, Belarusian, Canadian and German crews had no answer, and the Romanian duo cruised over the line for a clear victory. Damian and Susanu were back to defend their title in Beijing, and on 16 August 2008 achieved another impressive victory by a margin of almost two seconds, this time over China’s Wu You et Gao Yulan. Damian thus joined that elite club of Olympians who have won gold in the same event at three successive editions of the Games.
Two golds in the eights
Damian was also part of the Romanian eight that won successive World Championship titles in 1997, 1998 and 1999, and was drafted into the crew at Sydney 2000 that successfully defended the Olympic title won by Romania four years earlier in Atlanta, before she was on the team. Ast Athens 2004, they defended their gold in the eights yet again, a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that Damian and Susanu had only 24 hours to recover after their victory in the coxless pairs. Finally, at Beijing 2008, Damian and her coxless pairs partner were part of the octet that took bronze behind the USA and the Netherlands.
After 20 years competing at the top level, Damian, who is married to fellow rower Valeriu, decided to lay down her oars after Beijing, and took time out to have a second child. However, she was back ahead of London 2012, where she made a bid to win a third gold in the coxless pairs with Susanu. The pair reached the final but could only manage fifth place, at which point she called time on her career for the second and last time.