Mexico City’s Juan de la Barrera sports hall hosted the annual Mexican Gymnastics Open followed by a gala performance. For Romania’s Catalina Ponor, it was her last ever competition. Competing on vault, beam and floor, the 30-year-old won the latter two, and finished second overall. The crowd payed their respect by offering her a standing ovation. On her Facebook page an emotional Ponor wrote: “This is how I close a career of 26 years: gold, gold, silver” Then she thanked her coach Lucian Sandu and the people who have supported her throughout her career. Here’s a little review of her amazing career and some snippets from previous interviews with UEG!
Catalina Ponor, born on 23 August 1987 in the seaside port of Constanta, started gymnastics at the age of 4 with her long-time coach Matei Stanei. Internationally, her break-out year was 2003 when she won silver with the team, on beam and on floor at the World Championships in Anaheim (USA). 2004 proved to be her most successful year. First she won three European gold medals in Amsterdam (NED): team, beam and floor. The exact same three titles she clinched at the Athens Olympics as well. “A dream that came true. When I won the gold medal on balance beam, I was very emotional. I had wished to win that medal forever.”
After the Europeans in 2006 Ponor struggled a bit but she came back strong in 2007 with renewed appetite for competition. However, in December 2007 she retired due to ongoing injuries. She came back in 2011 and helped Romania qualify to the London Olympics where she took bronze with the team and silver on floor. Then she retired again, proud of her achievements. But the story was not over yet: in early 2015 Ponor registered with the anti-doping, 6 months after that day gymnasts are allowed to compete internationally again. She missed the Glasgow Worlds due to injury, a big setback for her team that didn’t make the first Olympic selection: “It’s sad to see Romanian gymnastics like this.” At the test event, teammate Larisa Iordache sat out the competition because of a broken hand. Ponor’s expertise alone was not enough to guide Romania to the Olympics, an unpleasant first since 1976. At the 2016 Europeans Ponor proved she was ready for the Rio Games by winning two bronze medals. She was named the sole Romanian female gymnast to compete in Rio and was the first Romanian gymnast to carry the flag during the Opening Ceremony. In the beam final she didn’t manage to claim a medal.
Another highlight in her career was still to come though! Ponor seemed eager to perform well at the 2017 Europeans, since they were held in her country, for the first time since 1957. She performed a solid beam set and jumped for joy when the score, a 14.566, was flashed. She already held the crown for most European titles won on beam but now she earned a fifth one.
During podium training at the World Championships in Montreal (CAN) at the beginning of October, the Romanian star stated it would be her last World Championships. This confession caused quite a stir in the gymnastics world. Unfortunately, the qualifications didn’t go well and she failed to advance to the beam and floor finals: “Sometimes this happens, competition is competition. I have peace with myself. Right now, I am ok to leave gymnastics. I hope no one will make me change my mind and make me come back to help out. When I saw Larisa’s injury I was a little scared to punch on the floor. Because the same thing has happened to me and it could happen again. That’s why floor didn’t go so well. I couldn’t push myself to do what I wanted to do. My legs were shaking, never in my life has that happened to me. I was saving myself then for beam. In training it went very well, I know I was prepared for this. And I am pretty sure I can do a lot better than this. On the round off I was out of the beam and I couldn’t go back, I tried. I didn’t know how to react because this has never happened before in a big competition.”
So what comes next? “There’s many projects I can do. Anyway I will stay involved in gymnastics. Probably I will start coaching, probably I will try to help them [the girls] out as much as I can”, Ponor told UEG in Montreal.
With 23 European, World and Olympic medals, of which 11 are gold, a true legend of the sport retires.
Thank you Catalina! And all the best for your future!