Queen of the BeamCatalina Ponor is a truly amazing gymnast who came out of retirement after over three years away from competitive gymnastics in order to help rejuvenate the Romanian team in preparation for the London 2012 Olympics. She originally retired in December 2007 due to ongoing injuries but was persuaded to return to training in March 2011 with the newly reinstated National coaches of Octavian Belu and Maria Bitang who had coached Catalina and the Romanian team to great success previously.
The Romanian gymnastics programme had been struggling since the resignation of Octavian Belu and Maria Bitang in 2005 so in 2010 they were asked to return in an attempt to help prepare for the upcoming Olympic Games. Catalina also made the decision to come back from retirement to rejoin her old coaches and help to reform the team. In the Athens 2004 Olympic Games the Romanian team, coached by Octcavian and Maria and including Catalina, had been practically unstoppable winning four of the six available Gold medals including team Gold, and Gold on both beam and floor for Catalina. Would it be possible to recapture some of the magic eight years later?
Earlier in 2012, at the European Championships, Romania started making their presence felt, beating the Russian favourites for the team title. They were clearly delighted with their win and Catalina posted excellent scores on all three of her events in both qualification and the team final. She qualified to two apparatus finals and medalled in both, taking the Gold medal on the beam and Silver on floor. The Queen of the Beam was back in business.
Coming into the Olympic Games all the focus was on the Americans and the Russians, but Catalina simply came in and got on with what she had to do. She posted great scores on all three of her apparatus in qualification, making individual finals (as expected) on beam and floor and helping the team to qualify to the team finals, though down in 4th place. In the team final Catalina upped her game, posting better scores than qualifying on two of her apparatus and only slightly lower on the third. On beam she showed us exactly why she has earned the reputation as being an expert on this apparatus. She delivered a beautiful and practically flawless routine to post the highest beam score of the day with a 15.416. Although the team as a whole did not manage to beat Russia this time they did edge ahead of the Chinese to take the final spot on the podium and the Bronze medal.
Beam was the first individual final for Catalina and after her superb routine in the team competition I could not wait to see her perform again. Unfortunately this time she was unable to perform to the standard we had seen in the team final. She had increased the difficulty of the routine but had two major errors, one after her double spin and one after the full twisting back flip. She did add in her incredibly difficult dismount, the full twisting double pike, which is very rarely seen in competition these days. Being the second gymnast up she had a long wait to find out her fate. Initially, she was placed in third and believed she had taken the Bronze medal however an appeal from the USA saw Aly Raisman's score increased by 0.100 which took the Bronze medal away from Catalina on a tie break.
Floor was now the only final left. Could she manage to do what she had not done in the beam final and take an Olympic medal, eight years after her last appearance at an Olympic Games? The fourth one up on the floor, Catalina gave an absolutely exquisite performance. Her tumbling was diverse and her landings were nailed, but most of all she really presented the routine superbly and sold her performance. In the end she could not quite match the difficulty of Aly Raisman but she came away with the Silver medal.
It would be hard to imagine almost any other gymnast coming out of retirement after three years, and not just competing but medalling in an Olympics eight years after her last Games. But those of us who knew Catalina knew that she could do it, and she did it with style. Her grace, elegance and maturity brought another dimension to these Olympic Games and I am absolutely delighted that we had the chance to watch her compete once more.