Cătălina Ponor (born August 20, 1987) is a retired gymnast from Constanţa, Romania. After beginning training with the national team in 2002, Ponor won several medals with the Romanian team, along with individual balance beam and floor exercise medals. Almost unknown until late 2003, Ponor has made several important achievements in her career as a gymnast. Her career highlights include the 2004 Summer Olympics and the 2004 European Gymnastics Championships, both of which she was a triple gold medalist, and the 2003 World Championships, where she was a triple silver medalist.
Following the Olympic games, Ponor has become involved in controversies, but has also triumphed at several competitions. After winning a gold medal at the 2006 European Championships, Ponor decided to retire because of injuries. Despite this, she resumed training and was planning to compete at the 2008 Summer Olympics. In December 2007, she announced her retirement from the sport due to health reasons. She resumed training in 2011 and made a successful comeback at the Romanian National Championships. She went on to represent Romania at the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympic Games, and won a silver and bronze medal at the latter competition. She came out of retirement a third time in 2015 and became the sole Romanian representative for the 2016 Olympics. This also made her the first three-time Olympian in Romanian gymnastics.
In 2002, Ponor was selected to move to Deva, the location of the training facility for the Romanian National Gymnastics Team. National team coaches Octavian Belu and Mariana Bitang had discovered her while watching her train in Constanţa. Her first coaches, from "Farul" Sport Club, were Matei Stanei and Gabriela Dosoftei. The next year Ponor was selected for the team for the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Anaheim, U.S., where she won a silver medal with the Romanian team, as well as individual silver medals on balance beam and floor. In the European Championships, Catalina won the gold in the event final, while her teammate Alexandra Eremia won the silver.
In 2004, Ponor followed up her result at the World Championships with even higher finishes at the European Championships in Amsterdam. Ponor won three gold medals at the event: team, balance beam, and floor exercise.
Ponor later competed at the European Championships and captured three gold medals on the same events (team, balance beam and floor exercise). At the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, she won gold in every event she entered, unprecedented in Olympic gymnastics. She was part of an immensely successful Romanian women's gymnastics team (four golds, one silver and one bronze in six events) that also included Oana Ban, Monica Roşu, Silvia Stroescu, Daniela Sofronie and Alexandra Eremia. Though the team members were less experienced than most of their rivals, the Romanians hit every routine to take the team gold by a comfortable margin. World champions USA were second, and the Russians, led by Svetlana Khorkina, took the bronze.
Ponor scored 9.787 to win beam, the highest women's score of the entire Olympics, where she beat all-around champion Carly Patterson on her best apparatus. Her teammate Alexandra Eremia was third. Ponor followed this with a 9.750 to easily win floor, in a final where many gymnasts faltered. This performance earned her a place in the record books: no female gymnast had won three gold medals in the same Olympics since her compatriot Daniela Silivaş in 1988. Others to have achieved this honor include Nadia Comăneci, Ecaterina Szabo, Nelli Kim, Olga Korbut and Larisa Latynina. Ponor was also the only gymnast in that Olympic Games to use the difficult full-in dismount from beam. Though once a reasonably common sight in the mid '90s, it had virtually disappeared after the 2000 Olympics. Previously Ponor had dismounted with the more common double pike, but she upgraded for the Olympics.
Following her Olympic success, Ponor competed in various exhibitions and in more minor competitions, such as the Glasgow Grand Prix. She crowned a successful year at the 2004 World Cup Final in Birmingham, where she won gold on beam and silver on floor. That year, Ponor remained undefeated on the beam in major competitions.
In August of that year, Ponor and teammates Florica Leonida and Alexandra Eremia left training camp and went to a party at a Bucharest night club. Consequently, the Romanian Gymnastics Federation opted to dissolve the team and sent Ponor and her teammates back to their home clubs to train. Ponor returned to her home club, "Farul" Constanţa, to train again with her first coaches, Matei Stanei and Gabriela Dosoftei.
However, 2005 also brought some triumphs. At the 2005 European Championships, Ponor again won the gold on the balance beam, easily beating the competition. With her new routine including two handstands, a double spin, and a tumbling line including five different skills landed perfectly. But the Olympic champion failed to medal on the floor, as she went out of bounds on one of her tumbling passes and finished in fourth place. Ponor was distraught at this and was seen crying afterwards.
In November 2005 at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Melbourne, Ponor was one of only two Romanian female gymnasts selected by the Romanian Gymnastics Federation to compete (the other being Florica Leonida). After an uncharacteristic wobble on the balance beam, Ponor took home only a bronze medal. She did not qualify to floor finals and did not compete on vault or bars.
The Romanian gymnastics team had a new coach for 2006, Nicolae Forminte. However, Ponor stated that she did not want to train with Forminte. Instead, she continued to train with Matei Stanei and Gabi Paun, only one of her coaches, before joining the Romanian National Team. Ponor competed at the European Championships that year. Additionally, she announced that she would retire after that competition, citing lingering knee problems as the reason that she could no longer continue in the sport. Despite her injury, she had managed some upgrades. In the beam final, she became the first gymnast ever to successfully perform a five-element tumbling series in a major competition, and in doing so retained her title. Ponor was the first athlete ever to win three consecutive European beam titles (the great Věra Čáslavská also won three, though not consecutively). She also showed a new floor routine, with unusual flexibility elements that she had not performed before, and more dance and musical interpretation than other gymnasts have typically shown under the new code—most now need to use four or five passes. The Romanians also took team silver, a remarkable comeback considering the state of the program only six months before, but a disappointment to them since the team would have won were it not for a fall on the last piece of apparatus.
Ponor resumed training with her coach, Matei Stanei, in 2007 after returning from Japan. Stanei has noted that Ponor is completely certain of her decision to return to gymnastics. When asked about Ponor's decision to return to gymnastics, the Romanian gymnastics team's coach Forminte commented: "She hasn't trained with me for Euros and it's not my problem. If she wants to return, very good. There will always be a place for another gymnast in Romania. Even though all the gymnasts who have recently retired would come back, there still wouldn't be too many gymnasts in the country. At this moment however, I'm not the selector to say if she's prepared or not to come back."
Ponor has expressed an interest in trying for the 2008 Olympic team, but after a bout of illness she was not present at the 2007 European Championships. Ponor has made significant advances on her marquee events, beam and floor. She competed in the 2007 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships (her first international competition since 2006 European Gymnastics Championships. In the team preliminaries, she competed on vault, beam and floor. She, along with compatriot Steliana Nistor, qualified for the balance beam event final in second place with a score of 16.250 just behind top qualifier Li Shanshan of China. In the team finals, she competed only on vault and beam. Her 15.000 score on vault was the highest score ever given to a 1.5 twisting Yurchenko in the new Code of Points (until USA's Nastia Liukin's 1.5 twisting Yurchenko scored 15.025 in the all-around at the Beijing Olympics). She and her teammates won the bronze, moving ahead of Russia after one of their gymnasts received a zero for running into the vault. She had the third score in the beam final, but the bronze medal was not awarded since two gymnasts (Steliana Nistor and Li Shanshan) tied for the silver medal. As of October 2007, Ponor resumed training in the national team led by Forminte. In December 2007, she announced her retirement from the sport.
Ponor traveled to the United States and worked as a coach at Dynamic Gymnastics in New York.
In April 2011 Ponor resumed training with coaches Octavian Bellu and Mariana Bitang (who returned in 2010 as main coaches of the national Romanian team). Her first competition, after an absence of almost four years, was the Romanian National Championships in August. Here, she tied for gold on beam with Ana Porgras (the 2010 World champion on this event). She also won the gold on vault and the silver on floor. Ponor made it to the final Romanian team that would go to the World Championships, however, Catalina did not achieve good results neither in the Beam nor on the Floor Exercices. In the qualifications, Catalina scored 15.166 on the Beam moving to the final at the 5th place, however in the final events due to a mistake made, she came in 7th place.
Ponor competed at the Doha World Cup, where she won gold on balance beam and silver on floor exercise. Ponor was named to the Romanian team for the European Championships in May. She competed on every event except uneven bars, but helped Romania win the team gold. Individually, she won gold on balance beam and silver on floor.
On July 7th, Ponor was named to the Romanian team for the Olympics. That same weekend, Ponor competed at the Romanian International Friendly. She won a gold medal with the team.
During qualifications, Ponor competed on every event except uneven bars. She qualified seventh to both the balance beam and floor exercise finals. During the team final, Ponor continued to compete on only three events. She posted the highest score on balance beam of the night (15.416). Her performance helped Romania secure a bronze medal behind the United States and Russia.
In the balance beam final, Ponor performed second. She had a few errors and scored a 15.066. Originally, she placed third, ahead of USA's Aly Raisman, until she put in an appeal to have her score changed. Raisman's score was then changed to match Ponor's, but a tie breaker was induced, giving Raisman the bronze.
In the floor exercise final, Ponor performed fourth. She had an excellent routine and scored a 15.200. The crowd booed her score, thinking it should have been higher. Ponor won the silver behind USA's Aly Raisman and ahead of Russia's Aliya Mustafina.
Ponor announced her retirement in September. She said she was going to focus on becoming a gymnastics coach. Her last performance was at the Mexican Gymnastics Gala in November and the From London to Rio gala in February.
Ponor announced her return to the sport in January and returned to train with the National Team, setting her sights on the World Championships in October. Her first competition back was a friendly meet against gymnasts from France, where she competed the all-around for the first time in over a decade. She won team gold, balance beam silver, vault and floor exercise bronze, and placed tenth in the all-around and twelfth on uneven bars. However, a calf injury kept her out of the World Championships, causing Romania to finish thirteenth in qualifications and not make the team final or automatically qualify a full team to the Olympics.
Ponor returned to competition at the Doha World Cup, winning gold on balance beam. In early April, she competed at a friendly meet against gymnasts from Belgium and Germany, winning team silver. She competed at the Olympic Test Event later that month, but mistakes landed Romania in seventh place, meaning they would not qualify a full team to the Olympics. In June, she competed at the European Championships in Switzerland, helping Romania place sixth in the team final, and picking up individual bronze medals on balance beam and floor exercise. In July, she was set to compete at the Romanian National Championships, until she was hospitalized due to food poisoning. She was cleared to compete and went on to win team, balance beam, and floor exercise gold. Following the National Championships, she was named the Romanian flag bearer for the Olympic opening ceremony, and subsequently the sole Romanian gymnast for the Olympics. She competed at a friendly meet against gymnasts from Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, and Venezuela, winning team bronze and posting the second-highest scores on vault and floor and the third-highest score on balance beam.
Although Ponor had previously stated she would compete the all-around in Rio, she only competed on balance beam and floor exercise. She competed in the second subdivision, starting on floor exercise. She qualified fifth to the balance beam final and as a third reserve for the floor exercise final. In the balance beam final, she had a very shaky routine and did not do her full-in dismount. She finished seventh, leaving Romania without an Olympic medal in women's artistic gymnastics.
Following her disappointing performance in Rio, Ponor decided she wasn't done with gymnastics. She competed at the Baku World Cup in March, winning gold on both balance beam and floor exercise. At the Doha World Cup in April, she won silver on balance beam.
Later that month, she competed at the European Championships in front of a home crowd in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. In qualifications, she qualified fourth to both the beam and floor finals. However, after qualifications, it was discovered that the judges had made a mistake with her D score on floor exercise. The mistake was corrected, but it dropped Ponor's score by five tenths, leaving her out of the floor final. In the beam final, she clinched Romania's only gold medal of the European Championships.
Ponor had some issues at the Romanian National Championships, including two very uncharacteristic falls on balance beam on the first day of competition. She was still able to make the balance beam final as well as the floor exercise final, winning silver in both. She also won bronze with her team. She went on to compete at the Szombathely World Cup, winning gold on beam and silver on floor.
She was named to represent Romania at the World Championships. This year, they were held in Montreal, Canada, the same city that hosted the 1976 Olympics, when Nadia Comaneci scored the first perfect 10 in Olympic history. This was regarded as a very big competition for Romania, and Ponor began upgrading her beam routine to ensure she won the gold.
Unfortunately, in qualifications, her teammate Larisa Iordache tore her Achilles tendon while warming up for their first event. Ponor admitted after qualifications that she herself was shaken by Iordache's injury, hoping it wouldn't happen to her during her floor routine. After an underwhelming routine on floor, she fell on her beam mount in the last rotation, ending her chances of medaling. She announced her retirement on her Instagram.
2003 - "Bronx Machine"
2004 - "Gia" by Despina Vandi
2005 - "Harem" by Sarah Brightman
2007 - "Dark Angel" by Edwin Marton
2011 - "Rise" by Safriduo
2012 (before Romanian International Friendly) - "Lux Aeterna" by Clint Mansell (from Requiem for a Dream)
2012 (Romanian International Friendly & 2012 Olympic Games) - "Fever" by Peggy Lee