How Ana Porgras Made Me Fall in Love with Gymnastics
Ana Porgras was the gymnast who made me follow gymnastics year-round. Between 2007 and 2009, I was somewhere in between being a once every four years fan and an obsessive, every single day fan.
I quit gymnastics in 2008, and although I have returned, I think that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made (so consider me biased when I get to her retirement). The way I see it now, if I didn’t quit then, I either would have quit a few days, weeks or months later, or I would have been miserable. I literally hadn’t improved in years, and I was afraid of trying anything new. I am happy when I am doing gymnastics now, but back then, I wasn’t. It was like a chore for me.
I watched the olympics that summer, of course, but after that, gymnastics was 100% out of my life for about a year, except for the occasional cartwheel. I have to admit that I did not miss it one bit.
I sort of followed 2009 worlds. I can’t say that I was surprised to see Ana Porgras from Romania as the #2 all around qualifier, or the top qualifier to beam finals. She blended in with the many other unfamiliar names on the list. I remember recognizing the Americans, and maybe a few of the Chinese Olympians when I saw them (not by name), but that was it. My small amount of knowledge told me that Romanians are good at gymnastics, and that was all that I needed to know.
The first world final that I watched live was 2009 world floor finals. I opened the live stream right after Jessica Gil Ortiz of Colombia landed her double front on her head. Jessica left the arena on a stretcher, and Rebecca Bross was the next gymnast on the floor. I had read a little bit about Rebecca, and seen her nationals performances, with the NBC commentators hyping her up in the background, but as a new fan, I simply did not get Rebecca Bross. Her routine did absolutely nothing for me. I was disappointed.
The next gymnast on the floor was Ana Porgras. I will admit to having no technical knowledge about the sport at that point, but I fell in love with her and gymnastics during that routine. It was gorgeous. Her turns were pretty, and she landed her tumbling well, with the exception of a near OOB landing on her second pass. When the score came up, I was shocked. How could her beautiful performance tie her with Rebecca’s lackluster performance? How on earth could they “downgrade” her turns?
It didn’t matter what the result was, after that, I was obsessed. I started watching performances of Romanians from years ago, and I loved them. I read a comment on a video of Ana that she reminded someone of Aurelia Dobre, and Dobre became my favorite gymnast for awhile. Sometime between Worlds and Europeans, I stopped being a huge Romania fan. That’s not to say that I did not still like them as a team, because I certainly did, but something, maybe seeing Komova for the first time, stopped my obsession (I disliked Wieber overall in 2009, even though I liked some of her qualities). I began to see many of the flaws in Romanian gymnastics, but I still loved Ana. She was the shining star of the gymnastics world, at least in the senior division. I’m sure I calculated thousands of times that she would have won the bronze if she had a double twisting yurchenko or hadn’t fallen on beam, or the gold if both had occurred. I saw a lot of potential in her, and I wanted her to be the 2012 Olympic All Around Champion (I didn’t really get bars scoring, and thought that a DTY, the normal vault for the top all arounders at the time, was a possibility).
By the time Europeans arrived, Ana was injured. She had a sore ankle, and could only compete on bars and beam. The first time I watched the meet, I just watched the routines. I saw that she looked hurt after dismounting bars, but I did not see anything past the dismount itself on beam. When I did see it, I was upset and impressed. It proved that Ana Porgras was a team player, and that she had left her inconsistencies of the previous year behind her.
Porgras ended up pulling out of bars and beam finals. It was revealed soon after the competition ended that she had broken her ankle. I began to wonder if she would make it to worlds, and thought that if she did, she would definitely not be competing all around.
Imagine my surprise when a few months later, Porgras won the all around and beam finals at Romanian nationals. With the help of Belu and Bitang, Ana looked more confident and sturdy. I no longer felt the need to hold my breath every single time she stepped onto the beam.
The 2010 World Championships once again proved that Ana was the one to watch on the Romanian team. She qualified first for the beam finals, and also made bars finals, ahead of a favorite, Tatiana Nabieva. Despite a few wobbles, Ana managed to win her first and only world title on beam, becoming the first Romanian world champion since Andreea Raducan won two finals in 2001. Romania has had plenty of accomplished gymnasts in the last decade, including Steliana Nistor, Sandra Izbasa, Catalina Ponor, Daniela Sofronie, Oana Ban and Monica Rosu, but Ana is the only world champion. She was also remarkably consistent at worlds, hitting all of her routines, which even Aliya Mustafina didn’t do.
2011 started off looking like a promising year for Ana. She changed her bars and beam routines, upgrading both by a few tenths, and although she struggled with her upgrades in competition, I thought that she would be able to make them consistent before worlds. She also showed a double layout and a double twisting yurchenko (with mats below competition height) in training. Once again, however, and injury kept her from competing the all around at Europeans, and even worse, she failed to make event finals on both bars and beam. Her new bars routine was certainly not well received by the judges; although she completed all of her pirouetting elements near handstand and made it through the routine without any gigantic errors, she received a low execution score and a lower than intended difficulty score. Compositional problems made her routine very long and tiring.
Ana made a comeback at Romanian nationals again, and had a good competition, winning the all around for the third year in a row and beam finals, tied with Catalina Ponor. Ana was not quite the beauty that we remembered. There is no way that she could be another Maria Olaru, but she certainly wasn’t the beauty that she once was. Nevertheless, she was still a serious contender. Many people considered her the favorite for the beam title at worlds, but doubted that she would make an impact on bars, myself included. After a few touch-up meets, Ana looked ready for worlds, with one notable exception: she hadn’t landed a bars dismount with less that around a .7 deduction for under-rotation and leg separation since Europeans, and rarely landed them at all.
Prelims at worlds were a disaster, at least for a gymnast of Ana’s calibre. As expected, she was not even close to landing her bars dismount. What we didn’t expect was a fall onto the beam on her switch ring. Beam is typically solid for her, and after seeing her routine in the next two days of competition, it would be fair to call that a fluke. Unfortunately, it was a costly fluke and kept her from having a chance to defend her beam title.
She was her typical self for the next two finals, even landing double layouts off of bars. She contributed the high scores for Romania on bars and beam, and finished sixth all around. She also won the longines prize for elegance. Ana competed in a few post-worlds competitions, and then we heard nothing about her for a month or two.
On the morning of January 16, 2012, I opened up my google reader and read that Ana had retired. To say that I was shocked would be an understatement. Perhaps all of the signs were there, but I thought that she would stick around for the Olympics. I never thought that she would continue past 2012, but I also have thought of her as a 2012 Olympian since 2009.
I don’t think that one single thing caused her retirement. It’s easy to question her motives when you see photos like this (I’m warning you, you may not want to click on that link!), but I’ll try not to. I truly do not believe that Ana retired so that she could party and go to clubs, I think that she is partying and going to clubs because she retired. One of the things that may have pushed her out was the way that she was treated as a “bubble girl” for the Olympics. Maybe Porgras had a bad worlds, and maybe she wasn’t working as hard as everybody else in the gym, but Bitang’s statement that Izbasa, Iordache and Ponor were the only three certainties to even stay in Izvorani seems a bit harsh (and I’m sure it was supposed to be). Even a weaker Ana was irreplaceable, and she was a forth lock for the Olympic team. That and her injuries probably caused a lack of motivation. It is awful to spend so much time working at something just to realize that you are not getting any better. Ana’s 2011 routines, give or take a few skills, are exactly the same as they were in 2009 with less artistry and originality. I can’t say that Ana will or won’t regret this, but as long as she did retire for the right reasons, think that it was probably the correct decision for her. If she doesn’t love it anymore, she shouldn’t be forced to do it. I would hate to hear years from now that she thinks of her career as a gigantic waste of time. The timing may not be perfect, but she needs a break to re-evaluate and figure out what she wants to do with her life. I wish her luck, and hope that someday, she will look back at her gymnastics career with a sense of pride, not a sense of regret.