International Ramblings: Ponor and Yao

7:50 PM Arabian Punch Front 0 Comments

There have been quite a few pieces of big news around the gymternet.

Catalina Ponor might return - and maybe Izbasa too!
Things were concerning for Romanian gymnastics last year, most notably when they lost a pre-Worlds Friendly Team competition to Germany. It became apparent that the 6-5-4 setup for qualifications could hurt the team and sure enough, it did. Romania finished qualifications in 7th place putting up only 4 gymnasts on vault and uneven bars and having to count a not-so-perfect 10 on the uneven bars. Team finals went much better, relatively speaking. Romania was leading Russia going into the final rotation, however, Russia was headed to vault and Romania was headed to the balance beam. The final score was 171.462 to 170.963 landing Romania in 4th place and off the medal podium. A fall by Stefania Stanila led her to tears when she saw the results.

"I'm sorry." "We'll just try harder next year."

 Romania does have quite a few juniors coming up - Laura Jurca was the 2014 Youth Olympic Games competitor and Andreea Iridon may help save some balance beam and uneven bar troubles. There are also quite a few gymnasts who will turn senior in the Olympic year. However, the situation at the moment is dire. Romania had exactly 7 uninjured senior gymnasts to take to Worlds - enough for a team and 1 alternate. Diana Bulimar was injured so that affected the team lineup and left a large portion of the work on Larisa Iordache's shoulders, which she handled excellently.

The return of Catalina Ponor (and potentially Sandra Izbasa) is exciting from a medal perspective. They have both done the "comeback thing" once and can do it again. Both also have personal unfinished business. Both Olympic Champions that were unable to defend the title they most wanted - Ponor on beam (and floor really as 2nd place is never easy) and Izbasa on floor.

Izbasa is perhaps the most interesting to me. Her 2013 comeback seemed purely about that floor exercise medal. Unfortunately, she fell on the exact same pass she fell on in the 2012 floor exercise final. Will she come back again to change the story the 3rd time around?

Ponor, after an extended hiatus, was able to make a balance beam event finals at the World Championships in the year of her comeback and was able to make floor and beam event finals at the Olympics. I can't help but imagine what kind of force Ponor is in the gym - older than the new seniors enough to serve as an older sister mentor but also focused and determined enough to reach her own goals and help carry the team to theirs. In my eye, she was always very supportive of her teammates while constantly pushing herself to be better at the same time.

In my opinion, having Ponor (and potentially Izbasa) back is a good thing. Rather, it can be a good thing. Elite athletes have an intense focus and drive. In theory, these gymnasts should be motivated rather than discouraged by the addition of another gymnast to compete against. Another gymnast to force them to do and be better. I look at Stefania Stanila who was in tears after essentially blaming Romania's 4th place finish on herself. We will work harder. She must work harder. She joined Iordache as Romania's 2nd all arounder in the event final and did reasonably well. Hopefully that will motivate her to push harder. To not be the one at fault in the future. To make herself desirable and trusted in the lineup. I hope that having someone like Ponor who has had success but also heartbreak can be a reminder that it is possible because Ponor has shown that it can be done, not once but twice.

Maybe third time's the charm and she'll help Romania to a team medal and her own individual medal on beam and floor. You never know.

Yao Jinnan is out for the year pending shoulder surgery
Yao Jinnan of China is reportedly trying to get visa issues figured out so she can come to the U.S. for shoulder surgery and expects to be out for the 2015 season. As always, if there was a year to be out, it's this year. Having Yao out, changes a lot for China. They use an all arounder individually and a contributor on all 4 events for the team. In some ways, this allows some of the other athletes to step up, Tan jiaxin for example being 2-per countried out of uneven bars event finals. Even Shang Chunsong. I'm not familiar enough with the Chinese team to say if this is really a disaster or merely a bump in the road but I do know they have a few juniors coming up. I don't think there's a top 5 all arounder coming up but definitely a few event final worthy new seniors. It's too early for me to say for sure but the door is certainly ajar for Romania at the very least. Should be an interesting year.