Catalina Ponor: I decided to come back after watching the World Championships

Three time Olympics champion, Catalina Ponor was interviewed by another Olympic champion, Andreea Răducan for one of the episodes of her gymnastics TV show, The Medal Factory (Digisport). Here is the full interview.


Andreea Raducan: We are standing next to the apparatus that usually makes the difference in competition: beam. Romania has always had great results and managed to cover problems at other apparatus by scoring high here. I have with me Catalina Ponor, whose favorite apparatus is beam; she has always managed to have great results here as well.

Welcome Catalina, I’d like you to tell us a bit about yourself, about your first steps in the gym, where you were born and when.

Catalina Ponor: Hi Andreea! What can I say, I think many people already know I started doing gymnastics at Farul Constanta Club with Matei Stanei and Gabriela Dosoftei. I was born in Constanta and I live there. I was born on the 20th August 1987.

Andreea Raducan: Why did you choose gymnastics and not some other sport?

Catalina Ponor: I think God gave me this talent; my mum told me that at age 1, I used to tilt my head back. I’ve always loved it, I saw a large number of tapes with young Nadia and I loved her style, I really wanted to do what she was doing…


Like most gymnasts, Catalina started gymnastics at a very early age, she was captivated by the sponges in the gym and loved the atmosphere there. She fell in love with gymnastics. At 9, she already had the public eye on her and she was preparing herself for awards and medals. If at the beginning she used to do very well at parallel bars, it only took one beam medal for this apparatus to become her passion.


Andreea Raducan: When did you realize you could go far in gymnastics, not only spend some time in the gym with other girls your age?

Catalina Ponor: When I first stepped into the gym. I was walking with my grandmother and I kept showing her this school, I didn’t know what was in there, I really thought it was just a school. Since then both my grandmother and I knew I had to go there. I liked it the moment I entered, it was wonderful, I loved the sponges, to jump and run around on the floor and I got along really well with the girls.

Andreea Raducan: When did you see the first national results?

Catalina Ponor: At 9. Until then I really liked parallel bars, this is something that surprises everyone, including me. This was until I won beam at my first competition. Since then, I’ve never left it alone and I’ve put a lot of effort into it. I told myself this would be my favorite apparatus.

Andreea Raducan: What year did you go to the Junior National team?

Catalina Ponor: I never did go to the Junior team, I went from my club directly to the Senior team.

Andreea Raducan: But you competed with the Juniors before you were able to go to the Senior team…

Catalina Ponor: Yes, I had the National competitions, I was part of the club’s team not the Junior National team in Onesti. They took me straight from the club. I went to Deva when I was 14, it was hard…

Andreea Raducan: What did you tell yourself when you got there? You had results at National level during a couple of years and now you were part of the National team in Deva. What were your thoughts back then?

Catalina Ponor: Like every gymnast, I wanted all the best, I wanted to be on top, to win as many medals as possible, to have as many results. But because I was just starting and I was young, I was also shy. I really wanted it, but I saw how well prepared my other colleagues were so I sometimes lacked motivation. But as my parents and my coaches encouraged me, I slowly started to catch up.


Catalina Ponor: Leaving my parents was very difficult, I was used to seeing them, being with them, having all I wanted, I was really spoilt. I slowly got over it, they were behind me every step of the way and I think this motivated me a lot.

Andreea Raducan: How important is your relationship with your coaches?

Catalina Ponor: Maybe at 15, 16, I was afraid to tell them some things, to tell them something hurt, that I wanted chocolate and things like these…But now, at this age, the communication is really good. I not only see them as coaches, I see them as my friends, even as parents as we are are all here together and they take care of us all.


After having achieved exceptional results at the Olympics, Euros and World Championships, Catalina decided to retire in 2007. Her coaches tried to make her change her mind numerous times, but Catalina felt exhausted and wanted to lead her own life. She went away from gymnastics for 3 and a half years but she decided to come back to the team trained by Octavian Bellu and Mariana Bitang before the London Olympics. Once back at Izvorani, fears started to show: she first thought she would not be welcomed in the team and that it would take months to establish friendships with her new team mates. Things went smoother than she imagined. The training went well and the girls took her into their group very fast.


Andreea Raducan: You have great results at every competition, including the most important one, the Olympics. You retired for some time and now you’re back. How do the younger gymnasts in the team see you? Were they shy, are they curious? What do they ask you?

Catalina Ponor: The first day I stepped into the gym, I felt rejection from everyone because the girls probably didn’t have the courage to come to me, to talk to me. They were shy and didn’t feel close to me as I was someone new for them. We slowly started to get closer and we get along really well, we discuss everything; if they need advice, encouragement, they come and ask when they need something…The relationship now is really good, I was not expecting this in such a short while. When someone who has had results comes back, it motivates you to show that you can work even harder and do more and even be better than her.


Anca Grigoras, ex gymnast, who now works at Izvorani next to Bellu and Bitang, says she was not surprised at all by Catalina’s comeback.

“To be honest, I was expecting this. We’ve had a number of gymnasts who have tried to make a comeback, Ana Tamarjan, Steliana Nistor. They really tried, but they could not surpass their health issues. Catalina has no such issues and I told myself it was not possible for her not to come have a look around, see what’s going on. And I was right, she thought it well and gave it a go. She is consistent, it’s clear she really wants it, really likes it. She is a strong gymnast; fortunately for her she hasn’t had many injuries. We are now beyond asking ourselves if she could be in the team, do what she needs to do under the current code of points – another code than what she used to know, despite of the short 2007 comeback. She is very serious, she is an example, seeing her in training is delightful.”


Andreea Raducan: Your results as a gymnast are extraordinary, you have everything you wanted, what motivated you to come back to the gym?

Catalina Ponor: I spent 3 years at home and I never even thought I would ever step into the gym and start again. But then I saw the Worlds, I saw what they are doing now and the very next second they were over I was on the phone letting them know I was coming. I did not plan anything, it was all on the spot and I promised myself that once on this journey, I would go till the end no matter what happens.

Andreea Raducan: After 3 years in retirement, did you find gymnastics different from what you were used to? Did this make you go back?

Catalina Ponor: From what I could see on TV, the competition is really different from before, in 2004 we fought hard for every tenth of a point. It’s different, but we want to get back to the same level and to compete the same way we used to back then.


After a 3 year and a half break, Catalina doesn’t find training hard. The triple Olympic Champion is back in shape and would like to see the whole team do well in London. “We have to train hard if we are going there” says the gymnast.


Catalina Ponor: We do around 2 hours and a half during each training. What can I say, there is a difference between what we used to do and what we do now.

Andreea Raducan: Tell me more about this, is this program easier than what you used to do?

Catalina Ponor: Honestly, yes. It’s much easier than before. We repeat less at each training, but I think that with time we will get used to it….they will get used to it, I’m already used to training hard. The girls will get used to the coaches and wel will slowly get back to what we used to do because there is little time, the Olympics are almost here and we need to be trained and do well since we are going there…


Catalina Ponor: All I want is for all of us to be healthy, to do our job well, to train as we used to and of course I want all the best, as many medals as possible, as many results.

Andreea Raducan: Your goal is the Olympics. What do you expect from this competition? You already have Olympics titles, you know how it feels to hear the anthem…

Catalina Ponor: Back in 2004 I would have surely said goooold, we want gold, I want gold. And I probably could have easily said three gold medals because I knew floor and beam were mine and I also wanted to be on top with the team. But now, with a new generation of gymnasts, less experienced girls, we cannot say anything right now. We are waiting to see what happens at Worlds, then we can probably predict 30-40% of what will be. We want to do our job, not to fall and to have high difficulty, this is most important.

Andreea Raducan: What does gymnastics mean to you?

Catalina Ponor: Everything! If I came back after 3 years and a half, it’s like a drug to me. Like coming back from rehab and still wanting more. This is me, I haven’t been able to get rid of it, I really like it, I’ve always liked it. This is what I wanted to do my whole life.

Andreea Raducan: You tried to make a comeback in 2007, had the third score in the beam final at Worlds  but you decided to retire and now you’re back. Why did you go away then?

Catalina Ponor: I had health issues, this was one of the reasons. I was also very diappointed with myself, I worked a lot to come back after a one year break. I really wanted a medal at that World Championship, everyone wants to be on the podium. This did not happen for me and this disappointment made me turn back. Now I’ve made up my mind and no matter what happens I really want to be at the Olympics and I surely won’t go back on this.


Catalina Ponor: There are many gymnasts from my generation, at Euros I saw many girls. I think at the Olympics there will be many mature gymnasts that keep going. I was motivated by this, Shushovitina is a role model for me at her age…


Adrian Stoica: I’m glad she came back. If Catalina is back in shape she can be a plus for the Romanian team. Of course, everyone has to earn their spot, but from what she has shown so far she can make the team and help Romania at Tokyo.


Catalina Ponor: I’m ambitious, a strong girl who can surpass any obstable when she wants too, but I’m kind of hard headed too….this is it!