A Romanian gymnast who moved to Windsor, Ont., four years ago wants to compete for Canada at the 2016 Olympics but he may not be a citizen in time.
Robert Stanescu finished seventh in the rings for Romania at the 2012 Olympics in Beijing. A year later, at the World Championships, he missed the podium by a tenth of point.
He has since moved to Windsor, where he and his wife own a gymnastics centre.
Stanescu says Gymnastics Canada told him there is a spot on the national team waiting for him, if he can obtain Canadian citizenship. He also says the Romanian Gymnastics Federation has given him “their blessing” to participate for Canada.
“But I cannot compete for Canada because of my citizenship,” Stanescu said. “Canada is my home. I’m proud of what Canada is. I want to compete for them.”
Stanescu is a primary citizen right now. He applied for Canadian citizenship in January. Ideally, he needs to be a Canadian citizen before the 2015 World Championships, which serves as an Olympic qualifier.
“From what I’ve heard, it can take up to three years to get it,” he said. “I hope that’s not the case because if that’s the case, I’m going to miss the Olympics.”
Stanescu’s wife, Ruxandra, moved to Canada with her family in 2009. The two weren’t married at the time. A year later, he followed his university sweetheart to Windsor and they married.
She’s now his trainer.
“She’s tough,” Stanescu said.
At age 14, Stanescu left his Romanian home to train for that country’s national team. He lived in a one-room apartment, doing his own laundry and cooking, more than 500 km from his family.
“It was hard because I knew it how it was going to be there,” Stanescu said, “but that’s what I wished for. We always wanted to get better and be the best.
“Our goals were to make the nationals and win something there. It was very difficult to win a spot [on the national team]. You had to be good at every competition that happened before the Olympic Games.”
He eventually represented Romania at four World Championships and one Olympic Games.
Stanescu said “it’s a big thing to be a gymnast” in Romania, where the athletes were idolized in newspapers and magazines and on TV.
He said tennis and soccer have recently soared in popularity back home.
“But gymnastics is still a big sport,” he said.
Gymnastics Canada tells CBC News they are aware of Stanescu and his desire to represent Canada. Officials watched him compete at the Elite Canada competition in Gatineau earlier this month.
They’re impressed, but can’t make him part of the team until he has citizenship.
"I'm training right now," Stanescu said. "That's all I can do."