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Catalina Ponor: Who said I would retire after the Olympics?

Catalina Ponor, the 2004 Athens Olympic Champion, gives us a lesson of will and strength in everything she does. At an age when many gymnasts are giving up the sport, Catalina, 24, decided to come out of retirement and reconfirm her position in elite gymnastics.

After a 4 year break, a coaching experience in the US and having taken in the possibility of failure, the gymnast is now part of the Romanian Olympic team, preparing for London.

Every story starts with “once upon a time”. If you had the possibility to choose, how would you like to start the Catalina Ponor story?

My story would probably begin with “Once upon a time there was a restless child who would not be still.” (laughs)

And how would it end?

With “and that child we were previously talking about managed to surpass any problem and obstacle and is now a fulfilled woman.”

After having spent most of your life in a fast paced environment, what was the first “forbidden” thing you did after retiring?

Had lots of sweets (laughs childishly), then I tried a bit of everything to see how real life is. You know, I sometimes wanted to face a problem by myself and learn to be strong because I feel that you cannot learn from mistakes until you actually are faced with those situations.

Gymnastics starts early and ends early. What is the main difficulty of still being in this sport at 24?

Yes, it is true gymnastics is a hard sport which starts and ends early, but this depends on each person´s decision. I can honestly say I regret having retired at 20. I missed being in the gym, training and the competition halls with thousands of people. It´s not difficult for me to be in gymnastics at 24. I badly wanted to come back and I made it, even if 24 seems too much. On the other hand, I think gymnastics has started growing in age too. There are many gymnastics of more than 22 and 24.

What was the hardest thing you had to go through after the 4 year break?

Getting in shape. An active sportsman is fit and I did not even move a finger all these years. This was the hardest part of the comeback.

I will not ask why you retired, I will only ask why you came back.

Because I wanted to show the world that Catalina Ponor, who was not credited with any chance to make a comeback, had a lot to say in gymnastics. Anything is possible when you really want something.

Was it a bet with yourself or with the people around you?

I will not make a bet with the ones around me as long as I know what I am capable of. I am an ambitious, stubborn and strong person and I can get through anything. If anything, this is a bet with me, to prove to myself yet again that this is possible.

Did Bellu and Bitang talk you into coming back?

I´d like everyone to know that what was said about having been asked by the coaches to come back to gymnastics is only part of the story. Yes, we joked about it once when I was in the US but I didn´t take it seriously and neither did they. I had no idea back then that 2012 would find me in the gym, training.

Do you think they supported you because of what you had done in gymnastics or for what you could still do?

They (the two coaches) have always trusted me; they knew I was a strong gymnast as they had trained me since 2002. Maybe they didn´t trust I would actually make it but I really wanted to show everyone that when you really want something you can do it.

 

The chat with Catalina Ponor unveiled a strong, ambitious, realistic gymnast, ready to face any obstacle.

The figures in the 24 year old´s life: 16 years of training, 5 years in competition, a 4 year break, 3 Olympic gold medals, 5 European gold medals, many silver and bronze medals and a comeback dream.

When she took the decision to retire in 2007, Catalina Ponor missed her chance to get to her second Olympics, in Beijing. Maybe this is one of the reasons why she is giving it her all in the months left till the London Games.

In the last part of the interview, Catalina discusses her expectations and disappointments, the sacrifices she´s willing to make and denies the news that she will end her career at the Olympics.

 

After such a number of medals won, did you ever tell yourself “now that my name is noted down in the book of the greatest sportsmen, what comes next is not important”?

Never! After having won the 3 Olympic medals I had even greater expectations, I did not want to make a fool of myself.

How does a champion react to not winning a gold medal?

I cried till dawn for every single silver or bronze medal

Was your decision based on this year´s London Games and on your desire to end your career on a high note?

It was 100% based on these Olympics. No matter what will happen, nothing will keep me from getting to my second Games. And why not, with God´s help, maybe even win a medal, even if it´s silver or bronze.

Then Catalina laughed and asked me: “Who said I would retire after the Olympics?”

I know you left for Athens thinking about bringing home the gold. What are you expecting from London?

Of course I also want gold this time around, but considering the break, the age and other factors, I will be happy with making the podium. Let´s allow the young ones to win some gold medals as well. What I am interested in is to win gold with the team and I think that we are slowly getting there.

Regardless of the Olympic results, you are still a name in the elite of Romanian gymnastics. Is there anything you don´t want from this competition?

Injury. Anything, but not that. If I get injured, I swear I will grab my hand or my foot with my teeth and I will compete like that.

What is next for Catalina Ponor, beyond the Olympics?

There is nothing planned for now. I honestly see myself in the gym in the next 7-8 months.

Let´s imagine the following. August 13, 2012. The London Olympics are over. What title would you have me give your effort?

“History repeats itself!”

After having given some big names in the sport, having dominated, how do you see the future of Romanian gymnastics?

I´m hopeful. I hope time will prove I am also right.

There are fewer kids doing this sport, the infrastructure is poor, what would make you leave the country to train a foreign team?

Anything from money to accommodation to respect.

After so many hours of training, focusing just on this activity, what does a 24 year old do? Does she still have time for something else?

The truth is I don´t have time considering that I am in the gym and in my room 24 hours a day. Sunday is a free day. There´s not much to do in my room except listen to music, watch TV, read a book or clean.

Are there any professional regrets?

Not having won the World Championship, but maybe it was meant to be like this, I´ve got used to it. God arranges things the way he wants and I have to thank him for giving me the talent. A talent I managed to take advantage of every single day….

If I asked you to say a few words on Covasna, what would you say?

I would have wanted to come visit. Unfortunately, I haven´t managed to see a large part of Romania due to the lack of time.

Original interview by Elena Rotaru- Observatorul de Covasna here:

Part One

Part Two