Romanian gymnast Catalina Ponor may have expected many things to happen on Tuesday’s Olympics beam final. Being the winner of the bronze medal for only six minutes wasn’t one of them though.
Ponor was the second gymnast to approach the beam after China’s Lu Sui who had already scored a solid 15.500. The Romanian slightly wobbled twice, had a clean dismount and earned 15.066 points. From that moment until the end of the event, Ponor sat on the edge of her seat in an excruciating wait. Deng Linlin of China got 15.600 thanks to a flawless exercise, and it was apparent that Ponor was eyeing the bronze.
Her fellow team mate, Larisa Iordache, who replaced Diana Bulimar, fell off the beam and ended on the sixth place before the all-around champ, Gabby Douglas.
When it was Aly Raisman’s turn, she seemed to have nailed her routine that would bring her the bronze medal. However, with a score of 14.966, Raisman was the fourth, right behind Ponor. Mihai Brestyan, Raisman’s coach, wasn’t pleased with his gymnast’s score and contested it. The judges reviewed Raisman’s routine and decided its difficulty was higher than they initially established. Hence, they awarded an additional tenth of a point, tying with Ponor at 15.066.
Ironically, Raisman was a tiebreak “victim” herself a few days ago, when she lost the bronze in the individual all-around competition to Russia’s Aliya Mustafina. Their lower scores were dropped and the remaining scores added. Mustafina won then with 45.933.
Now it was Raisman’s turn to win the tiebreak as she had a higher difficulty score, according to the judges’ final deliberations. A speechless Ponor walked off to prepare for her next final, the floor.
Romania expected to scoop a couple of more medals with Ponor and Sandra Izbasa in the line up of the most anticipated event, the floor exercise final.
Ponor took the floor right after Raisman who scored 15.600. The Romanian delivered a superb exercise for which she only got 15.200 points. Surprisingly enough, coaches Octavian Belu and Mariana Bitang didn’t file any complaint.
Izbasa was the last gymnast in the competition. Charming, calm and collected, she seemed to own the floor, knowing how to sell her routine. She fell right at the end of her last pass and, sadly, ended up on the eighth place. Raisman won the gold medal, Ponor silver and Mustafina bronze.
Despite not reaching the top of the podium in London, Ponor has one of the most impressive résumés. Among her many achievements, she is a triple Olympic champion, the only female gymnast since Daniela Silivas in 1988 who won three gold medals in one Olympics (Athens, 2004). She retired in 2007, has overcome injuries, a heart surgery in 2011, and ultimately committed to making one heck of a comeback.
After the Tuesday’s controversy that turned Ponor’s world upside down in a few minutes, the question which needs to be answered is: should Olympics allow tie? Ponor shouldn’t have been deprived of the bronze medal, with or without Raisman’s added tenth.
Having said that, the Romanian women gymnasts deserve big props for their remarkable performance in London. The contribution to the team bronze of the younger and less known Diana Bulimar, Diana Chelaru and Larisa Iordache shouldn't be overlooked.
In a sport like this, where athletes peak by their late teens, Romania’s team pillars at the London Olympics were Catalina Ponor, 24, and Sandra Izbasa, 22. Two fearless, classy and outstanding gymnasts who gave it their all to make their country proud.
They've earned the respect of those who, back home or at North Greenwich Arena, equally shivered for every pirouette on the bridge of sighs, every floor tumbling pass, every grip of the uneven bars and every air rotation vaulting. Medals or not, Ponor and Izbasa simply killed it!