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17 Aug 2004
Athens 2004

Gymnast Ponor lives up to the hype

Aged just 16, Cătălina Ponor emerged as the new gymnastics hero that Romania had been craving. In Athens, she took on the world’s best in fearless fashion, coming away with three gold medals

Ponor had joined the Romanian national training centre two years earlier and her prodigious talent had been immediately apparent. She made her debut at the Worlds in 2003, winning silver medals in the floor exercise, the beam and the team all-around competition.

In 2004, she warmed up for the Olympic Games with a series of sparkling displays at the European Championships, this time taking gold medals in the same three events. Ponor was now a known force, and a strong contender for medals in Athens.

Once again, she was set to compete in the beam, the floor exercise and the team-around competition, as well as the individual all-around and vault.

Her first gold medal came in the team all-around competition, in which Romania beat the USA, partly thanks to Ponor's stand-out displays on the beam and the floor. However, this was merely a preamble to her performances in the individual competitions.

First up, there was a gold on the beam, with Ponor finishing just ahead of the American Carly Patterson. She had barely time to catch her breath before she was back in action on the floor, where she produced a spellbinding routine that included a piked full-on back-out and a double pike. I It was rewarded with a standing ovation and a score of 9.750.

Her nearest challenger turned out to be Romanian team-mate Dana Şofronie, who scored 9.562. Ponor’s winning margin of 0.188 points was the largest ever recorded in the floor exercises, and the biggest in any apparatus for nearly 30 years.

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