When Catalina Ponor posts pictures of herself within a five mile radius of a balance beam, my head immediately goes to “oh my gosh, she’s training again!” Stretching with her boyfriend? TRAINING. Gym posing in a pretty dress? TRAINING. Dancing at a club? TRAINING.
But now, it looks like she’s back in the gym for real. Again.
An article by Romania’s ProSport reported that the 27-year-old five-time Olympic medalist is training again and is willing to return to the national team and elite competition if she passes an evaluation by Octavian Belu and Mariana Bitang (Ponor took to Facebook after the article was posted to say she’s not back yet, yet being the operative word).
Adrian Stoica, the president of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, said her return would help the currently struggling team to a major comeback. “Her presence would motivate the younger ones, and make them more competitive,” Stoica said, adding that four-time Olympic medalist Sandra Izbasa is also “flirting with the idea of returning,” and will likely make a decision before the end of February.
In a way, Stoica is right. Having Ponor – and possibly Izbasa – back in the gym full-time will without a doubt give the program a much-needed boost, especially if they make it back to a level where they’ll be seriously competitive in an international arena. They both seem to love the sport, and really take their roles as supportive team leaders seriously.
But at the same time, what does it say about the Romanian gymnastics program if they have to rely on the same gymnasts for nearly a decade? As a kid I knew Romania as a factory that churned out hoards of champion gymnasts on a yearly basis, and now we’re lucky to get one every four years.
In 2014, Larisa Iordache was in a league of her own after Diana Bulimar‘s injury. The Romanian team at world championships was a very young and inexperienced one, and yet instead of pushing them to build on their skills and become stronger competitors before 2016, the federation is expecting Ponor and Izbasa to come in and solve all of their problems once again, pushing talented kids like Andreea Munteanu, Ana Maria Ocolisan, and Stefania Stanila aside. Because come on…they say Ponor and Izbasa in the gym would create stronger competition between the girls, but we all know the real reason for bringing them back is to actually have them competing at major international meets again.
If they’re such good motivators, why not bring them in to…motivate? Like, through workshops and seminars instead of shoving them in front of the younger ones as if to say “look who’s gonna get the spot you worked for because you’re not good enough”? If anything, that just shows the younger generations that it’s not worth the effort. With a year and a half left until the Olympics, it’s less motivating and more disheartening for hopefuls to see reinforcements brought in, especially as they watched the same thing happen when Ponor was brought back in 2011.
Saying “screw it” and ignoring gymnasts who are still growing in their ability to compete at a high level by going back to rely on the same group time and again isn’t healthy for a program. Look at the United States, a team with the opposite problem. Elites who want a second shot at going to the Olympics in the U.S. better be prepared for letdown, because here the focus is almost solely on development. Sure, it’s cool when former gymnasts come back at a high level because they love the sport, but there’s no expectation for comebacks and frankly, no need. If the current 14 to 17-year-olds in Romania were given the same attention as young U.S. gymnasts, there’d be no need for the president of the federation to basically beg for the return of the program’s saviors. Romania has a very deep pool of gymnasts turning senior this quad, and that’s where they should be turning to build their 2016 team – to the future, not the past.
As a Ponor and Izbasa fan, I’m very excited to see what they can potentially bring back to the world stage. But as a fan of Romanian gymnastics, I fear that the longevity of the team as one of the best in the world isn’t very strong when every four years, they get discouraged with the state of things and have to dig to pull former superstars out of retirement. It’s a short term solution to a long-term problem, and if they don’t fix it, they’re going to be in very deep trouble.
Article by Lauren Hopkins