“But I am sure we will see her in the future. Three more years and I am sure she we have more experience”.
And it wasn’t just Christine Still who felt sure. At the 2009 World Championships, many gymnastics fans (included me) believed we were seeing one of the next greats. Ana Porgras is and was a fantastic gymnast, and yesterday’s news of her retirement is incredibly saddening. Saddening for her, saddening for the fans, saddening for Romania and saddening for the entire sport.
Ana was one of the only gymnasts this quad who could truly be called artistic. This simple fact is brilliant enough in its own right, given the times we live in. But further to this: she was a Romanian.
Who do we think of when someone says “Romanian WAG Gymnast”? For me: Simona Amanar, Lavinia Milosovici, Gina Gogean. In other words: compact gymnasts known less for their artistry, and more for their almost robotic consistency, vaulting and tumbling. And of course, their terrible bars.
This was part of what made Ana’s gymnastics so special. She wasn’t just good; she shattered a mould that had been set tight in the Romanian system for decades. Rather than perfunctory choreography, gluey feet and nailed landings, she was all about delicate lines, beautiful presentation and ethereal inconsistency.
She was the star of the 2009 World Championships, despite winning only one medal. A bronze on the uneven bars - in the final Ana showcased her classic lines and presentation to capitalize on a weak field. This medal is misleading though, as Ana is no bars specialist. It was all about her beam. There was a sense that if she could battle through her inconsistency problems, she would be a beam frontrunner. To me, it seemed like she was poised to upgrade dramatically and would become a real threat in the all around as the quad drew to a close.
2010 saw Ana stay on the beam to win a well deserved world title. However, even by this point, pressures of the code had drained much of the originality, poise and artistry out of her beam routine that had won over the fans and commentators in the first place. Thankfully, she retained her fantastic flight series ending in her super sky high layout. Even here, though, the artistic touches were fading: I loved in 2009 that she began her flight series with a back walk over as opposed to a back handspring. The change in tempo from slow grace to speed and power was fantastic to watch.
The highlight of Ana's career. But.....
...many of the personal touches seen here were gone. Look at that mount, and my favourite BWO into the flight series.
In other respects though, Ana never lived up to the hype that her debut seemed to promise. Unfortunately, she never seemed able to upgrade her vault from a full twisting yurchenko. In an open ended code, a vault start value of 5.0 was never realistically going to cut it against American and Russian 6.5s. Combining this with increasingly scrappy floor routines and bar work that was beginning to plateau around the 14.000 mark, Ana’s chance of impacting an AA podium was seeming slimmer and slimmer each competition.
You could say (as I have suggested in a previous article) that Ana was born into the wrong quad. A delicate, artistic girl with a great FTY would have been right at home in the early nineties. Sadly it is now a game of muscles and mammoth D scores.
A beautiful vault, but sadly lacking in the tariff necessary to compete at the very top level
Regardless of all of the above, and even regardless of making no finals at the 2011 worlds, it still seems a shame to throw in the towel at this point. Easy for the unfatigued spectator to say, but one would think it worth hanging on a few extra months to make all the years of training that bit more worthwhile. Still, all that can be done is to hope that Ana’s decisions are her own, and ones that she does not come to regret later.
And so it is will sadness that Ana Porgras becomes added to a list of fantastic, hugely talented and widely loved athletes who never quite managed to reach their true potential.
Three famous examples of unfulfilled potential
- MO HUILAN
One gold and two silvers in terms of individual achievement: less than you would imagine for someone who made such a lasting impression on gymnastics. Mo was the epitome of inconsistency which cost her AA medals in 1995 and potentially 1996, and locked her out of the EF of her signature apparatus in Atlanta.
- DOMINIQUE MOCEANU
Only one individual silver for perhaps the most overhyped American gymnast of all time. Dominique showed exceptional difficulty at a very young age (if age restrictions stay the same she will forever be the youngest American national champion, aged a mere 13 back in 1995). Personal issues and injuries prevented her from coming back strong at the world level beyond the Atlanta Olympics.
- EKATERINA LOBAZNYUK
For me the greatest waste of potential of them all. Lobaznyuk was one of the stars of the 2000 Olympic Russian team: in my opinion one of the greatest assemblages of talent in the modern history of the sport. Sadly, they failed to deliver in a spectacular way. Ekaterina’s career was similarly underwhelming in light of the incredible talent that she possessed: she has an individual silver and bronze to her name. A bad vault in 2001 tore her ACL and MCL, which ultimately prevented Lobaz from progressing in the sport. The fact that this girl has neither AA medals nor any floor medals is a real shame. This was surely world class in anyone’s book...
Pictures: http://26.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lxwdph5pXs1r1zfpao1_500.jpg, http://pics.livejournal.com/ardelive/pic/001a94ak, http://gymnet.org/forum/files/mo_huilan_poutre.jpg, http://www.thecouchgymnast.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/moceanu-bb.jpg, http://www.gymbox.net/images/LobaznyukOS001.jpg