The Romanian Championships were about as dramatic as everything else they’ve been through this quad, with the country’s two Olympic contenders – Catalina Ponor and Larisa Iordache – faced with injuries and illnesses that threatened to take them out this weekend.
Ponor came down with the flu, for which she was hospitalized, while Iordache faced a concussion during training and then some sort of knee or ankle injury during her bars dismount in event finals limited her for the rest of Sunday’s meet, where she showed weakness on beam before skipping out on floor completely.
For her first meet back since worlds, I wasn’t expecting much from Iordache, given her numerous injuries and ailments throughout the year. But I have to say, she totally wowed me on beam even if it was a tad watered down, and she had a great day overall, winning the all-around title with a 56.933 even with an FTY and some mistakes and weak form on bars. But her beam actually looked good, and she showed a great level of confidence, something I didn’t think would happen so soon.
Iordache actually won the bars title with a 13.8, even with some messy form and the jolted landing causing her pain, but on beam she placed second to Ponor with a 14.433, which was a bit generous given her difficulty level. There were too many bobbles and little form breaks compared to day one, and the step on her 2.5 dismount took her off the mat.
But Ponor had a fabulous weekend, even despite the illness. She’s still performing a solid DTY, which is a bit perplexing as she has neither a full all-around set nor a second vault, so I’m guessing she hopes to introduce a bare bones bars routine into her program for Rio. And on beam and floor, her work was mostly good each day, allowing her to win the titles on both beam and floor.
On beam during the all-around competition, she actually fell on her double spin, and yet still got a 14.366, which is only about three tenths less than she’s been getting on the event internationally for her best routines so far in 2016 (she averages a 14.5 for hit routines this year). She was strong otherwise but not strong enough to warrant an execution score that high, so this was a bit of a fantasy. She also broke into the 15s on both of her events in finals, which was again a bit high considering her performances, but either way there was no doubt that she showed that she was the stronger of the two Romanian Olympic candidates.
The Romanian federation wrote on Facebook today that Ponor is “more advanced in terms of preparation in relation to Iordache,” and then named her as the flag-bearer for the Games, but didn’t outright name her their Olympian, instead stating that both she and Iordache will travel to Rio, though based on their comments, it seems as though Ponor will compete and Iordache will act as the reserve, though Iordache could step in and take over if things change in the next few weeks.
Romania will compete at two friendly meets later this month, including this weekend in France and then on July 23 in Germany. The federation had initially stated that these meets would help determine the spot between the two top contenders, but it’s unlikely that Iordache will regain her 2015 strengths in just a few short days.
If Ponor is not competing all four events, it means she is hoping to medal on beam and floor, which is not going to be easy given that there are at least eight gymnasts on each event who have consistently outperformed her all season. Iordache at her best was looking like a bronze or silver medal contender, but where she currently stands, the podium would most definitely be out of reach, as would the beam and floor podiums as well. Thus neither is coming in as a major medal contender, though when looking at potential, Ponor currently has the strongest shot at making it happen should others not fulfill their potential. At the end of the day, Ponor is the correct choice.
It’s truly heartbreaking for Iordache, who fought through blood, sweat, and tears all quad long to help Romania’s weakest team in history through two world championships as the leader. It wasn’t easy, and while she got them to pull through for fourth in 2014, last year her efforts couldn’t make up for the fact that Romania had almost no depth on the world stage, leaving them out of the team picture for this year’s Games, something they couldn’t rectify at the test event in April.
There’s a lot of chat about “deserving” spots and my general opinion is that anyone who works out this hard to become an elite athlete “deserves” the Olympics. But with Iordache, she’s spent the past four years on a whole other level of being “deserving” which is why it’s especially sad to see her dream of making it to her second Games end after getting so good in the wake of her somewhat disappointing first Olympic experience.
But at the same time, it’s thrilling for Ponor, who will experience her third Olympic Games at 28 after coming back once again at just the right time to get into fighting shape. Even though she didn’t have the same fight as Iordache this quad, she still deserves to be there as would any other gymnast who proves Olympic readiness. I hate that the decision had to be one or the other, and think it’s ludicrous that Iordache’s world bronze medal doesn’t carry her over to the Games in the way an event medal would have. But at the same time, I’m choosing to be super happy for Ponor while also fully depressed about Iordache.
Beyond these two – because you know Romania still somehow exists outside of the Olympic battle?! – we saw two juniors get on the all-around podium with Iordache, probably the best look at just how decimated this senior field is. Ioana Crisan, a member of the junior Euros team who injured her shoulder during the beam final, came back with a vengeance here, hitting all four events very well for a 56.699 (including a 15.033 for her always amazing beam). Carmen Glavan, the leader of the junior B team who wasn’t part of the Euros picture, won the bronze with a 55.866 for her equally good day.
Maria Holbura, who has performed admirably all season and contributed great scores at the test event and Euros, was the top senior aside from Iordache, placing fourth with a 55.632 after hitting all routines. Other senior finishers include Andreea Ciurusniuc in seventh with a 54.666 and Silvia Zarzu in eighth with a 54.499. Anda Butuc, a member of the Euros team, competed only on bars and beam, with beam her standout event here.
In addition to these, the super powerful junior Denisa Golgota continued to impress on vault with a big DTY and floor with an excellent performance to finish fifth all-around with a 54.966 and Carmen Ghiciuc, also a member of the junior Euros team, was sixth with a 54.732. Their Bern teammates Olivia Cimpian and Alisia Botnaru did not compete.
In the event finals, Golgota won the vault gold averaging a 14.277 and then also came in for the floor silver with a 14.4. The bars title went to Iordache, who also won beam silver, and the beam and floor titles belonged to Ponor. Crisan won the vault silver and one of three floor bronzes, though struggled in the bars and beam finals. Butuc won bars silver, Holbura won bronze medals on bars and floor, Ciurusniuc got the beam bronze, Ioana Oprea got bronze on vault, and Ana Maria Puiu nabbed the third bronze on floor.
Article by Lauren Hopkins