At the press conference held by the Romanian federation this afternoon, nothing was said regarding the fate of the program overall, disappointingly.
But federation president Adrian Stoica did state the somewhat obvious – that the individual spot at the Olympic Games this summer will go to either 28-year-old five-time Olympic medalist Catalina Ponor or 19-year-old 2012 Olympic bronze medalist and four-time world medalist Larisa Iordache.
“We can’t make the decision now,” Stoica said during the press conference. “I had a discussion with them and they will be competing against each other to prove who is more likely to best represent Romania at the Olympics. The girls will participate in several competitions where they’ll be evaluated by neutral judges. It’s not a simple process. They’re both capable. They each want to be the best, which is an advantage on the way to Rio.”
Iordache couldn’t compete at the test event due to an injury to her fingers that required surgery in Vienna and six weeks out of the gym, something she sustained almost exactly six weeks before the qualification process. Now she’s back in the gym and hoping to make it to her second Olympic Games, but will have to contend with Ponor, who made her comeback to the sport last summer specifically for the 2016 Games, for the team’s single spot in Rio.
“We encourage each other and push each other,” Iordache told the press. “When you see your teammates doing better, it makes you want to do better.”
Iordache is also in a time crunch to come back for the European Championships, to be held in Bern, Switzerland from June 1-5. Stoica thinks the team at their full potential could earn a podium spot.
“I hope with all of my heart to go to Euros,” Iordache said. “I started training again as soon as I was cleared, and even if I’m not at my best by that time, I hope I’ll be okay and that I make the team. We all hope to be healthy and I think anything is possible.”
Ponor, who briefly considered retirement following the team’s unfortunate finish in Rio last week, also now aims for Euros as the next step in her journey to what could be her third Olympic Games.
“It will be a lot of work, and the second day back from Rio, I went back to the gym and started adding elements on each apparatus,” Ponor told the press. “I need to go to Euros. I said I’d come through, and I will come through. I want to make it to the podium with the team. And personally, I just want to be healthy and safe. The medals and results will come.”
Euros will definitely act as part of the selection for Romania’s Olympic spot, likely along with various internal tests or friendly meets before the decision is made.
“We both wish we could be there but these are the rules,” Ponor said. “It’ll be competition as usual between us. We encourage one another and whoever’s the best will be the right one to go on. Of course, I’ll be disappointed if it’s not me. I fought to get past injuries and I tried to help the team. I fought for the team and for the team to get a spot at the Olympics. But if Iordache is the better option, God help her be healthy and stay healthy so she can bring a medal home to Romania.”
Right now, if both are healthy, Iordache is clearly the better option by leaps and bounds. Not only has she been a mainstay in the program all quad, competing tirelessly to medal at every world championships in addition to making the rounds at various world cups, challenge cups, continental championships, and friendly meets along the way. She has the strongest chance for a medal in the all-around in addition to potential for additional medals if she hits beam and floor.
Ponor in comparison wouldn’t make a final anywhere but beam, and with the routine she’s been competing this year, a medal would be a reach, and would only come if gymnasts with stronger routines have mistakes. She says she’s upgrading on all three of her events, but with only a little over two months to go before they need to determine their representative, it’s unlikely she’ll boost her routines enough to make her a medal contender. Though if Iordache isn’t able to regain her full strength in time, Ponor could at least be a strong backup option, and you never know – beam finals this quad have been disastrous, and Ponor is nothing if not consistent.
It’s disappointing that the team’s top finisher at the test event, Diana Bulimar, isn’t even being considered for a spot, though if Ponor isn’t a big medal contender, Bulimar certainly won’t be. Since battling back from multiple knee injuries and surgeries following the 2012 Olympic Games, Bulimar’s performance ability has deteriorated greatly even on her best events, though I hope she’s at least considered as a reserve and is motivated to stay at her current level just in case they need to call her in at the last minute. I feel similarly about Laura Jurca, who finished eight in the world in Glasgow last year, but the federation seems set on their decision.
Article by Lauren Hopkins