Despite a disappointing Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Romanian veterans Cătălina Ponor and Marian Drăgulescu aren't planning on retiring any time soon. Pictured: Ponor and Drăgulescu watch the event finals on August 16 in Rio.
Despite a disappointing Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Romanian veterans Cătălina Ponor and Marian Drăgulescu aren't planning on retiring any time soon. Their immediate goal is next year's European Championships, taking place April 19-23 in Cluj-Napoca.
The duo told Romanian media they have their sights set on continuing toward the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, which would be Ponor's fourth Olympic appearance and Drăgulescu's sixth. In Rio, Ponor finished seventh on balance beam in the final. Drăgulescu finished fourth in the vault final, losing the bronze medal via a controversial tie-break procedure. It was the first time since 1972 that Romania did not medal at the Olympic Games.
Ponor, who turned 29 on August 20, was emotional after her mistakes in the beam final, and said the pressure got to her.
"Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be," the five-time Olympic medalist told Agrepres on Wednesday. "I tried to pull myself together and perform well. It was not how I wanted it to be. If I had managed to concentrate, if I weren't more nervous than I've ever been before in my life and just performed my routine like I did in qualifying, I likely would have a medal around my neck right now."
Ponor went through a challenging Olympic preparation. She missed the 2015 World Championships after tearing her calf muscle and underwent surgery. Romania failed to qualify a full team for the first time since 1968. Romania was only able to send one female gymnast to Rio, and it came down to Ponor and Larisa Iordache, who had suffered a hand injury earlier this year. Iordache underwent surgeries on her hand and missed months of crucial training time. She returned, albeit not at full strength, and won the all-around at the national championships in July, where Ponor won balance beam and floor exercise. Ponor was ultimately selected to compete as the better medal chance in Rio, but Iordache was invited to travel to Rio as an alternate.
After the balance beam final in Rio, Ponor broke down and revealed the tense situation she had endured in the build up to the Olympics. Reports surfaced that Ponor was shunned in the gym by some of the younger gymnasts and was even harassed online and through text messages by fans of Iordache, telling her to withdraw and give Iordache the spot. She also experienced insults on Instagram. Ponor's coach, Lucian Sandu, said he was also the recipient of similar messages and that it drove him to reconsider remaining as a coach in Romania. In an open letter posted on Facebook after the beam final, Ponor vented her frustration at the hate she has received. (Her Instagram account has since been deactivated.)
"I'd say I felt in better shape than I was when I was 16!" she wrote. "And I could have made it if I didn't feel all the negative comments and vibes coming at me like a hand trying to push me off the apparatus! I wanted it too much and it broke my heart. I cried all night. It hasn't been easy for me to ignore everything I heard around me, on social media and in the press!"
I wanted it too much and it broke my heart. I cried all night, it hasn’t been easy for me to ignore everything I heard around me, on social media and in the press!
Nevertheless, Ponor said she is not turning her back on her team and hopes to help Romania qualify a full team again to the next Olympic Games.
"I'm already thinking about a new Olympics," Ponor said. "It's important to be healthy and then say I will get there. But first, I'm thinking about the 2017 Europeans. I will try to in one way or another get revenge for what happened now. I want to get the team to Tokyo, because from my point of view the team medal is the most important."
Drăgulescu, on the other hand, said he received a lot of support after losing the medal in the vault final, and said he is hoping the Romanian Olympic Committee will recognize his placement in the vault final as the rightful third place.
"It was a very strong final," he said. "I'm glad I was able to do my vaults. I finished third in the scores, but unfortunately the Olympic Games doesn't allow ties [in gymnastics], but I received many messages on Facebook from the world. They told me 'you won the bronze medal, you came in third,' so even I would be happy for the Romanian state to reward me as though I got third. I'm happy to be home, I'm happy the Romanians are supportive, both those at home and those at the competition. At least they gave me positive energy and I felt really good. In the end you're never relaxed, the emotions are high, but we managed to control them and make them constructive emotions."
Drăgulescu, who turns 36 in December, said his goal is still to win the one medal he does not have: Olympic gold.
"Certainly, my main motivation remains a gold medal at the Olympic Games," he said. "I set a long-term objective for Tokyo, but I will take it step by step. Next year we will hold the Europeans in Cluj. The public will expect a lot, so we will not retire and we will bring more good results and make us proud."