Somewhere amidst this competition-filled spring season that has included the American Cup, the European Championships, the Glasgow World Cup, and the NCAA Championships, you may or may not have caught wind of an interesting comeback in the works…2004 triple Olympic champion Catalina Ponor.
This announcement did catch me by surprise, as we haven’t heard much from the Athens superstar since she seemingly left the sport for good – albeit for the third time – back in 2007. Then again, she is only 23, which by today’s standards isn’t all that old to be competing at the international level the way it used to be. Still though, comebacks at that kind of age aren’t typical of Romanian gymnasts; they’re usually the ones retiring in their teens after one Olympic experience and a couple of world championship outings, and we typically don’t hear much from them again. Two-time Olympians Gina Gogean (1992 & 1996), Lavinia Milosovici (1992 & 1996), and Simona Amanar (1996 & 2000) were certainly the exceptions rather than the rule.
My next sentiment was one of intrigue, as I envisioned just how much spark Catalina could potentially bring to a Romanian team that has been severely lacking in glamorous stars since Ponor and her teammates won gold in Athens back in 2004. Sure, they’ve had some highlight moments, such as Sandra Izbasa’s Olympic floor gold in 2008 and Porgras’ world balance beam gold in 2010, but for the most part, the unstoppable Romanian regime of the late 90’s and early 00’s has needed some serious rejuvenating.
The return of Octavian Belu and Mariana Bitang has undoubtedly inspired some of that rejuvenation, as has the successful return of 2008 Olympic floor champion Sandra Izbasa, who has looked better and better with each competition she’s entered over the past few months. Ana Porgras has turned into quite an all-around contender, and up-and-comers Diana Chelaru and Amelia Racea are gaining valuable international experience.
The old Romanian nemesis – the uneven bars – now looms larger than ever, and unfortunately that’s not something that Catalina Ponor is going to be able to change. Aside from two-time world bars finalist Ana Porgras, the Romanians have no other really strong bar workers, and their two recently returned veterans Izbasa and Ponor haven’t even shown signs of training the event. 2008 Olympian Gabriela Dragoi is decent on bars and was used in the team finals at the recent world championships, and fellow 2010 world team member Cerasela Patrascu appears to have potential, but they’re going to need more than that.
As we forecast this team over the next year, it certainly appears that Porgras and Izbasa are locks to compete at the world and Olympic level, and the rest of their team’s spots will be up for grabs. If Ponor is in decent shape on her strong events, you’d have to think she’ll be a serious contender. If neither she nor Izabasa is training bars, that could create some problems with putting together a lineup on Day 1 at worlds and the Olympics. Izbasa was far from a great bar worker in 2007 and 2008…but still probably a little better than some of their other current options. Perhaps she can be convinced to add the event back to her arsenal? She’d be a mighty formidable all-arounder if she did, as she is currently one of the world’s best on floor and vault and is a former world medalist on beam. I think getting her at least a solid bar routine and adding Ponor to the team for beam and floor could be the best route for Romania to take if they hope to challenge for at least a medal this year and next.
Catalina Ponor Beam 2004 Olympics Event Finals
Catalina Ponor Floor 2004 Olympics Event Finals
Catalina Ponor Beam 2006 European Championships
Catalina Ponor Floor 2006 European Championships