The all-around competition at this year’s Mexican Open required the women to compete only three of the four events to win a medal, something the retiring Catalina Ponor of Romania was able to take advantage of on Saturday as she used this format to win the first “all-around” medal of her career.
The last time Ponor competed and medaled in the all-around was at a domestic meet in 2004. She then got rid of bars, which served her well, allowing her to focus on beam and floor as a speciality while contributing vault in team competitions when needed. Occasionally she’d tease about bringing bars back, and almost seemed serious about it going into the 2016 Olympic Games, but alas, it never came to be.
After failing to make either of her intended finals at world championships in Montreal this year, Ponor told the press she was ready to retire at the end of the season after finishing up a few remaining obligations, including the Arthur Gander Memorial in Switzerland and last weekend’s Mexican Open, where she wrapped up her career with the gold medals on beam and floor, the bronze on vault, and silver in the three-event all-around.
Ponor competed a Yurchenko full on vault, earning a 13.95, and then moved to beam where she landed her layout stepout mount with a wobble before moving on to hit her flight series, switch leap to Kochetkova, split jump to Omelianchik, and a double pike dismount with a step, wobbling on a few elements in the interior of the routine, but walking away with a 13.85, the highest score of the meet on the non-vault events.
On floor, Ponor was slightly short on her double layout and on her triple full, and she performed just a front tuck through to a tuck full before finishing with a double full hopped back, earning a 12.5 to put a cap on the final competitive routine of her career.
In the gala on the following afternoon, the organizers presented a tribute to the three-time Olympic champion, who teared up a little as she addressed the crowd, bringing up her coach Lucian Sandu and thanking him for helping her achieve all that she did in the sport.
In addition to the tribute, Ponor also performed on floor in the Gala, appropriately and amazingly to Beyoncé’s “I Was Here,” which included video of some of her most special Olympic moments before she took to the floor to show off some dance and tumbling in front of a crowd that gave her a standing ovation while she cried. Having attended the Mexican Open in 2016, where Ponor also won gold on beam and floor, I loved seeing the enthusiasm from the Mexican fans, and am glad she got to go out in front of a crowd that loves her so much.
The Mexican Open wasn’t just the Ponor show, though. Cuba’s Yesenia Ferrera posted the second-highest score on all four events, reaching the highest actual all-around score of 52.700 in addition to the gold medal three-event score of 40.400, edging out Ponor by just a tenth.
Ferrera got a 14.45 on her Yurchenko double to begin her meet, and I seriously thought she made a mistake and was going to scratch the way she calmly walked halfway down the runway before running into her vault. She got a ton of power even with the weird walk, just taking a step out-of-bounds, but I’m baffled at how she generated any power at all and can’t imagine what she could do if she actually ran!
On bars, Ferrera hit a Maloney to Hindorff, toe full to Tkachev, clear hip to toe half to giant half to bail to toe shoot, and a big double layout dismount with a great landing for a 12.75, just showing a few form issues throughout, and on beam she got a 13.2 for a mostly solid routine that included a slow front aerial meant to go into a front tuck, though it likely wasn’t credited, a layout flight series, and a double pike with a hop back, though she had a few wobbles throughout, including on a simple half turn to get into position at the end of the beam before then falling on her sissone to split leap to side somi.
Her conga-inspired floor routine, always a highlight, included a big double layout with a step out-of-bounds, a front layout full through to tucked full-in, a double pike with a tentative landing, and a low double tuck with a step forward, earning a 12.3. It wasn’t the best meet for her, but she still got the gold, and I love that she’s back and getting out there again after such a long time away from the sport.
Angelina “I Need a Vacation, Why Doesn’t Anyone Listen to Me?!” Melnikova won the bronze with a 40.050 three-event score, and would’ve won the silver with a 52.250 had all four events been included. #ThanksPonor
Melnikova had the best vault of the competition, getting a 14.55 for her Yurchenko double, which had a ton of air and was super clean throughout aside from some leg crossing in the second twist. She also won the gold medal on bars with a 13.3 for a routine that included an inbar full, a Komova II to Pak, a van Leeuwen, a muscled toe half to a close (and messy) piked Jaeger, and a messy and low full-in with a big step forward. She also had what was supposed to be a toe full before the dismount, but she ended up muscling halfway through and was forced to abort the second half of the rotation, though she covered it up well even though it meant taking a hit in both her D and E scores.
She wasn’t as lucky on beam, where she fell onto the beam on her wolf turn and then off the beam on her front aerial, though the rest of the routine was okay, including her layout series, punch front, and double pike with a step forward. She got a 12.2 there and on floor, the latter of which had a messy opening turn sequence before a stumble on her arabian double front, a low double layout, a step out on her piked full-in, and a low but stuck double pike.
A little more energy and attention to detail, and this would’ve been a great competition for her. But you could see how tired she looked, which caused her form and commitment to her routines to lag a bit, almost like she was fighting through a swamp to hit everything. She even fell on a double full in her Gala performance on floor, which is about as peak Melnikova as it gets, so I hope the next few months are filled with naps and sunshine for this kid (though I doubt they will be).
I was pleased to see Argentina’s Ayelen Tarabini finish fourth with a 37.200 three-event score (and a 47.800 all-around). Luckily for her, the 10.6 she got on bars — where she seemed to get lost in the rhythm a bit in addition to having low difficulty, though she did have that cool dismount that goes right from a handstand on the high bar into a back tuck — didn’t count into her total, but the rest went well for her, with a 12.15 on beam and a 12.05 on floor, which included a punch double front on top of excellent dance elements and engaging and unique choreography.
Paula Raya of Spain placed fifth with a 37.200 (48.250) after also putting up the third-best score on bars, though she struggled on both beam and floor; local kid Victoria Mata, who made her debut at last year’s Mexican Open, was sixth with a 36.900 (47.400) after a struggle on bars; Dalia Al-Salty of Hungary was seventh with a 36.700 (47.800) with a solid beam set; and Valeriia Iarmolenko was eighth with a 36.450 (46.450), winning the bronze on beam with a 12.7 despite a fall on her opening layout stepout mount.
The rest of her beam was quite promising, including a side aerial to layout stepout with a bobble, a tentative tour jeté half, a full L turn, a front aerial and side somi not connected but probably meant to be eventually, and a double full with a step. She unfortunately had a rough performance on bars and floor, but she’s a super exciting prospect for the Ukrainian team and could be a huge help once she gains confidence.
In the men’s competition, the battle was on between Russian Nikita Nagornyy and Manrique Larduet of Cuba, but in the end it was Nagornyy who took the title with a 59.190, about seven tenths ahead of Larduet with a 58.467 (the men competed four of their usual six events).
Nagornyy went up on all six events, and was able to drop his two lowest scores, a 13.9 on pommels and a 13.867 on high bar. The rest of his scores were fantastic, though, including a 15.1 for his awesome stuck Dragulescu on vault and a 15.06 for a skilled, masterful performance on p-bars. He also got a 14.63 on rings and a 14.4 on floor, posted the top scores on every event but rings and high bar, and would’ve scored an 86.957 total had this been a legit all-around competition.
With the rules set up the way they were, Larduet opted to compete only four events, so he wasn’t able to drop any unfavorable scores the way Nagornyy could. But the four routines he did compete were excellent, including a 14.7 on rings and a 14.067 on high bar for the golds on both, as well as a 14.8 on vault and a 14.9 on p-bars for the silver medals there.
One of my favorites, Ahmet Onder of Turkey, picked up the bronze with a 55.794 four-event score and a 81.327 total. His difficulty is a bit low throughout, but he still put up some great scores, including a 14.4 for the bronze on vault and a 14.26 on p-bars. He also won bronze medals on high bar with a 13.734 and on floor with a 13.4, and because the pommels field was so desolate, his 12.733 there was enough for silver. Onder dropped that score as well as his 12.8 on rings, winning the all-around medal more than a point ahead of the fourth-place competitor, making it a great day for him.
Vlad Cotuna of Romania was fourth with a 54.596, competing every event but pommels and winning the bronze on floor with a 13.4 and on p-bars with a 14.33; Joel Plata of Spain placed fifth with a 54.590, also competing every event but pommels and bringing in the silver on floor with a 13.8 there; Botond Kardos of Hungary was sixth with a 53.097, competing a full all-around set to earn a 75.367 but dropping a super rough floor as well as his pommels score, though he won the bronze on the latter; Volodymyr Hrybuk of Ukraine was seventh with a 51.107 (73.480 all-around) and got the bronze on rings with a 13.43; Aaron Mah of Canada was eighth with a 50.690 competing all but vault; and the two Mexican competitors finished at the bottom of the pack, with Francisco Rojo placing ninth with a 49.837 and Jorge Inigo placing tenth with a 45.534.
Once again, the Mexican Open was a hit with gymnasts and fans alike, and I love that competitors get this opportunity to visit a beautiful part of the country while making a little money and getting to hang out with their international friends.
I know Ponor especially loved these events, so it was a fitting venue for the end of her career, and I’m glad she was able to go out on such a high note with the first ‘all-around’ medal of her career. After several ‘retirements’ in the past decade, I think this is finally it for the 30-year-old, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her slipping back into a leotard a few months before the 2020 Games.
Full results from the competition are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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