It’s been a great quad for Marta Pihan-Kulesza, the 28-year-old gymnastics legend from Poland who was an eight-time national champion and represented her country at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.
But unfortunately, after an injury sustained at last year’s Polish Championships and then another minor injury that affected her training early this year, Pihan-Kulesza began to struggle. Her scores suffered at an internal competition in Poland as well as with falls on bars at the Italian Serie A meet in February and then again at this weekend’s DTB Team Challenge in Stuttgart.
With teammates Katarzyna Jurkowska-Kowalska and Gabriela Janik currently performing at their best, it means Pihan-Kulesza was not named to one of Poland’s two spots for next month’s Olympic Test Event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After the federation made the decision on Monday, Pihan-Kulesza took to Facebook to announce her upcoming retirement.
“I’m not going to the Test Event,” Pihan-Kulesza wrote. “That means I can’t go to the Olympics. It also means that it’s the end of my gymnastics.”
She confirmed her plans to attend the World Challenge Cup in Cottbus next week as well as the final Italian Serie A meet of the season in May, where she traditionally competes as a guest, but these will be her final two, and then she will retire. “These will be my last two months as a gymnast, so I hope I make them the best two,” she said before thanking her supporters.
While Pihan-Kulesza has long been her country’s best, it was this quad that became her standout era, with multiple European and world final appearances and huge scores making her a lock for every team. She’s the Cottbus floor gold medalist two years in a row, made it into the European beam and floor finals in 2014 as well as the all-around and floor finals in 2015, placed 14th all-around at worlds in 2014, and won the Mexican Open all-around title that same year.
But an ankle injury sustained at a Serie A meet earlier in the season came back to haunt her at nationals. After a second-place finish there with a score of 55.6, held back a bit due to a rough performance on beam, she was forced to withdraw from event finals, which she attended as a spectator, using a walker to get around.
The injury forced her to miss four months of competition, including the first ever European Games in Baku. When she returned that fall, it was obvious that she wasn’t at her best, and though she qualified in 38th place at worlds, a fall in her first pass on floor took her out of the running for the all-around final.
This year, she looked as though she was slowly returning to her pre-injury ability, showing especially great work on beam, with scores of 14.3 in Italy and 14.35 in Germany. But she had falls in all of her bar routines and another fall on floor in the DTB team final, leaving her with all-around scores of 53.25 and 51.765, points below her potential. With her teammates upgrading and outscoring her, Pihan-Kulesza unfortunately lost her edge right when she needed to be at the top of her game, taking her out of the running for what could have been her best Olympic Games ever after the work she’d done over the past couple of years.
While it’s incredibly frustrating for an injury to limit her potential after so much success this quad, Pihan-Kulesza will retire as a two-time Olympian, multiple worlds and European finalist, and international medalist who changed the game in the modern era of Polish gymnastics.
The sport won’t be the same without her fierce Pink Panther floor routines, her gutsy and polished work on beam, and her awesome, colorful, glittery hair, but Pihan-Kulesza is leaving behind a legacy that has inspired dozens of gymnasts in Poland and around the world. We’ll miss her terribly, but her many accomplishments have made for an incredible career and we can’t wait to see her excel at whatever she does next.
Article by Lauren Hopkins