Cătălina Ponor is the Romanian gymnastics team’s star. After her 2007 retirement, she returned to the gym after a 4 year break and made the Tokyo World team.
„Adevărul”: How did you get to practice gymnastics?
Cătălina Ponor: It was because of my grandmother, when I was 4. Probably God gave me this gift because every time I passed by the gym I would point out I wanted to go there. Once I went in I couldn’t leave anymore.
What did you want to be when you were little?
I don’t know if I ever dreamt about something else because I started at 4 and I stayed on this path, wanting to be like Nadia. She was the role model I wanted to equal.
Did you feel like the favorite to win a medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics or did you just hope to come in first?
I wasn’t hoping, I could really say: ”Yes! I am the favorite to win a medal!” I didn’t actually imagine I would win three, but I wanted at least two.
Did anything announce the three titles?
Yes, the evening before I dreamt 3 white horses! I didn’t know what that meant, but my mum said it was a good sign.
Did you ever want to give up gymnastics?
You have many moments like this in life. I am a strong person and I never gave up when faced with this kind of moments. On the contrary, I tried to push and motivate myself even more.
What made you retire the first time around?
It was because of my health problems. Even now, I would take the same decision if I were faced with a serious health issue. I would definitely choose health….
You had a heart problem this year…
It wasn’t serious. It was something normal for a sportswoman. There was this little congenital malformation which caused tachycardia and would not allow me to keep training properly.
Now everything is solved?
More or less, the doctor said I could still have some problems. But I get it checked every 6 months.
What made you come back after having retired?
I honestly missed this a lot. I missed the gym, training, especially competing. I really wanted to come back.
What was the defining moment in this decision?
I looked back and I told myself that if other gymnasts from other countries can keep doing gymnastics at that age, why not me? And I returned very focused, very decided. God helped me prove you can come back after 4 years.
What did the first training feel like?
Oh! You could roll me with a sheet, I could barely stand! But it’s normal. The first months were a nightmare for me, I made a huge effort to come back. I was so sore even getting out of bed was difficult. I had aspirin with me all the time. Massages and things like that helped. It’s normal after such a long break…
Were the latest World Championships disappointing because of the results or were they a success because you made the team?
70 to 30%. The disappointment was bigger. The 30% is for the happiness to be back and see people happy with the performance. Personally, I am very disappointed because, after the 4 year break, I could not make the podium.
How many days do you spend training?
I have just spent 4 days with my family. Those were the only days off since I came back.
So you spend 11 months a year training?
Of course. I would even say 12 month as I don’t get to spend one whole month at home all together.
Do you have a bedtime hour?
Of course, you can’t have everyone do what they want. Nobody controls me anymore, but I am well aware about what I need to do. I hope the girls do the same.
How about your USA experience?
It was nice, I learned so much from the people there, I really enjoyed it. I liked the life there, how the girls and the people treated me. Unfortunately, I can say people outside Romania treat me with more respect than those here. Not all of us here know how to respect and value the person, in other countries they know how to appreciate this and keep their best people close.
Are you considering moving to the USA after retiring?
Yes, why not? As long as I won’t have a job here and I won’t find something I like, which also satisfies me financially, then yes, I will probably leave the country.
Were there any offers?
Many. I have them somewhere but I told everyone I am with gymnastics now. We can discuss after that.
You had offers to coach kids or national teams?
Generally kids and older girls which could make the National and elite teams.
Any offers to compete for other countries?
Yes, some very relevant. But, to be honest, I don’t know if I could compete against Romania at Worlds. I don’t think I would be strong enough to do that.
How was your first meeting with Nadia?
It was emotional. It happened when I was almost 16, at the 2003 Worlds. She was my idol and I wanted to get to know her personally.
What does Nadia mean to you?
She is a very good friend, I couldn’t stop talking to her throughout the World Championships. She was there for me all the time and when she didn’t like something, she would say it. I not only see her as a friend, I see her as a mother because she has always been there for me.
Has Octavian Bellu changed since 2004?
He hasn’t. It’s normal for him and Mrs. Mariana to be strict. Without this and some scolding you could not achieve results.
Does your mother’s presence in the competition halls make your nervous?
My mum’s knows she is not really allowed to come to competition. Because I feel her there, always. She did this once in Ploiesti without telling me and I felt she was there, I saw her immediately. I find the people close to me immediately because I feel they are there. Even at the Olympics I found Mr Matei (her first coach) in the hall.
Do you call your mother after competition?
Yes, of course. I didn’t feel like calling anyone after the World Championships because I was too disappointed. And I started crying, I think I cried all night. Mr. Bellu encouraged me, gave me a hug, told me nice things but deep down I was still too disappointed to get over it. I let this pass and then I called mum. She was happy because I managed to do what I did, after so many years.
How do you celebrate an important win?
Hm, do you think we have time for that? You are happy for the medal, then you get to the gym and you start all over so that your can be happy for other medals.
Are you superstitious?
No, but I trust God. I always ask him for help when I get on an apparatus.
How many teddy bears have you received?
Oooh, many. I think I have five or six bags with all kinds of toys. I like them a lot and I really get upset when mum takes one to give it away. You cannot touch my teddys, they are really close to my heart. Every one of them has its significance and comes from somewhere, got it from someone, things like that…If I look at them, they remind me of something. And I do remember where they came from. It’s my entire story.
How many marriage requests have you already received?
Everyone knows I don’t have time for this kind of things and I’m not interested either. I think I am too young for that.
Is it difficult to be in love and be a gymnast at the same time?
Not as long as you keep your focus in the gym. Outside, nobody is interested if you are in love or not.
Did you ever request an autograph from another gymnast?
Yes, how could I not? When I was little, I got one from Simona Amânar, Lavinia Miloşovici, Andreea Răducan. If I am not wrong, I have one from Nadia too.
How many autographs have you already signed?
Oooh, I don’t know, I can’t even count them…
How many Facebook friends do you have?
Around 1.300-1.400. I don’t accept everyone, but I don’t have anything to hide either. If the fans really want to have me as a friend, then I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t talk to everyone, though….
“Where I see myself in 20 years? I will probably have my own family. Life is unpredictable and you can’t tell what will happen.”
Translated by: RomanianGymnasticsFans