Romania’s women’s gymnastics team has won medals in every Olympic competition since 1976, making their failure to even qualify for the all-around team competition during the Games in Rio shocking.
Now, Romania’s only hope of bringing back its gymnastics legacy rests on the shoulders of 28-year-old Catalina Ponor, who is competing in the balance beam on Monday.
This isn’t an unfamiliar position for Ponor, who led her team to gold at the 2004 Olympics – a much-needed bright spot during a decade in which the nation’s gymnastics program was engulfed in scandals including allegations of doping and lying about athletes’ ages. She followed this performance up with individual golds for the balance beam and floor exercise.
At the 2012 Games in London, Ponor led her team to a bronze medal and scored an individual silver. This year, Ponor came out of retirement to try to help Romania qualify, but couldn’t carry the team.
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So, Romania was left with just one individual Olympic spot that seemed all but guaranteed to go to Larisa Iordache, who earned a silver medal at the 2014 World Championships. While a broken finger kept Iordache out of this year’s Olympic qualifiers, she was expected to recover in time for the Games.
However, Iordache’s recovery didn’t go as planned, and Ponor was selected as Romania’s sole individual competitor. It’s a responsibility she’s happy to hold alone. She said she missed her teammates but was happy she had only herself to worry about in competition.
“I have been in two Olympics with a team and I miss my teammates being here to enjoy the Olympic experience,” Ponor said in an interview with the Olympic news service. “But at the same time it took a little pressure off my shoulders because I don’t have to carry a team.”
She added: “If I make mistakes by myself then it’s on my hands. If I don’t do anything it’s my fault.”