I was definitely surprised to see this, even despite her obvious struggles last year – including injuries, failure to upgrade any of her routines (aside from her nice double layout on floor), and failure to medal at the worlds in Tokyo. Her gymnastics still had an elegance and level of beauty that made her one of the most impressive gymnasts in the world, and combined with her relative strength on uneven bars, she was practically a shoo-in for the five-woman Romanian squad for London.
Any time a gymnast of Ana’s caliber calls it quits just months before the Olympic Games, it catches us all off guard. It’s so difficult to comprehend why a gymnast with such exquisite talents who has spent nearly her entire life pursuing an Olympic dream could even consider throwing in the towel just before the final stretch. We’re left with many unanswered questions, and speculations naturally begin to abound. Based on interviews I’ve read thus far, all I can gather is that she was at the tail end of a very tough year physically for her, and amidst a burnout she suffered yet another injury to her elbow that simply tipped her over the edge.
The tone and resolution she exuded in her answers to some of the questions seemed to suggest this process has been going on for some time, and also that there may be more behind this decision than we understand at this point. Were there personal issues going on that we know nothing about? Did the new coaching regime over the past year having anything to do with it? There’s no question that chronic pain takes an incredible toll on both the body and sometimes even more so on the mind, particularly when one feels the constant frustration and discouragement of not being physically able to live up to one’s potential and meet the expectations of others. Sometimes a gymnast feels this “psychological” pain even more as the big events approach. In Ana’s case, perhaps the mounting pressure of the looming Olympic Games and the burdens of her recent injuries and disappointments simply snowballed to a size that her tiny teenage shoulders could no longer bear. Even the best athletes in the world reach their breaking point. What’s unfortunate is the high likelihood that she’ll regret this decision down the road, after the Olympic Games have come and gone and she begins to wonder if she could have stuck it out just a few more months – even if as a specialist. The decision isn’t ours, though, and as for now, we’re simply left to miss this brilliant gymnast.
Past Olympian champions Catalina Ponor and Sandra Izbasa will likely serve as the Romanian team leaders in London, and can both contribute big scores on floor, vault, and beam. And fortunately for this team, first-year senior Larisa Lordache is one of the hottest rising stars in the sport right now and could be an all-around medal threat this summer. But even with these three big guns, the loss of Porgras is still going to leave a sizable hole that this team will be desperately trying to patch and plug over the next several months. While Porgras was certainly at her very best on beam, the event where she won the 2010 world title and which truly epitomizes her classy elegance and style, it’s actually uneven bars where this team will miss her most. With two world bars finals appearances and even a world medal from 2009, Porgas has been the lone bright spot for this team on bars in recent years. Romania’s performance on bars at the 2011 worlds was absolutely dismal, and essentially kept them off the podium despite an otherwise very solid team showing.
Fortunately, Lordache is quite strong on bars and could legitimately come up with a similar score as Porgras on this event – at least by this summer. But with still one of the very weakest bars lineups of any of the twelve teams scheduled to compete in London, Romania is going to need more than just one strong bars score. If this team hopes to regain a spot on the medal podium, they’re going to need to fill their remaining two spots with girls who can put up clean, reliable bar routines that can score well into the 14’s. It’s difficult to say at this point which two girls these might be, but one thing’s for sure – they better find them fast.