Romania’s Porgras makes like a veteran, taking lead in qualifying at world championships

By Nancy Armour, AP
Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Another rotation, another leader at gym worlds

LONDON — The United States isn’t the only country with an endless pipeline of talent.

Ana Porgras, who doesn’t even turn 16 until December, has all the makings of Romania’s next great gymnast, breezing to the top of qualifying at the world championships Wednesday.

Porgras scored 57.300 points, almost a full point more than Deng Linlin, a member of China’s gold medal team from the Beijing Olympics.

“I have big expectations for her,” Romanian coach Nicolae Forminte said. “Not now. The big thing is the Olympic Games, that is my big target.”

U.S. champion Bridget Sloan is third (56.075) after a fall off balance beam. There are still two rotations to go, with up-and-coming American Rebecca Bross still to compete, and scores start over in Friday’s all-around final.

“It’s a clean slate on Friday, so that’s very, very exciting,” said Sloan, who came in favored to win the world title. “I didn’t realize scores started over, I thought they carried over.”

Britain’s Beth Tweddle is wishing she had a do-over on uneven bars.

Tweddle is Britain’s most famous — and favorite — gymnast, giving the country its first-ever world title when she won bars in 2006. She’s had a strong season, and was expected to contend for another title on her signature event here, in front of her adoring fans.

But Tweddle fell as she tried to catch the top bar with her hands crossed — a move named for her — drawing gasps from the crowd and leaving her teary-eyed.

“It’s obviously gutting,” said Tweddle, who is out of the running for Saturday’s event final. “Leading up to this competition, I had no problems with my routines. Next thing I know, I’m on the ground.”

Romania, the bronze medalist in Beijing, is rebuilding following the retirement of 2007 world silver medalist Steliana Nistor and a recent injury to Sandra Izbasa. With talent such as Porgras, though, it’s more like a cosmetic update than a full-scale teardown.

“Look at her,” Forminte said, nodding at Porgras. “You can see she’s special.”

And rest of the world, beware. Forminte has a few more youngsters squirreled away for 2012 back in Deva, Romania’s training site.

Porgras’ chances for international experience were severely limited by a knee injury that required surgery in January. But she was so composed Wednesday she may as well have been back in Deva. She had no major mistakes, and showed the kind of class on balance beam that Romanians have long been known for. She flipped and twisted across the 4-inch-wide beam with ease, her legs ramrod straight and her toes perfectly pointed.

Her only “flaw,” if you can call it that, was doing an easier vault than the other top women. But it hardly mattered in the standings, and Forminte isn’t about to take chances with his prized new pupil.

“I told her to work normal, don’t hear or see nothing,” Forminte said. “It’s the same story, her and the apparatus.”

Sloan’s day got off to a rough start when she landed a front aerial somersault with her left foot hanging over the edge of the beam, her first event. She waved her arms to try and save herself, but she was too far off-balance and had to jump off.

The rest of the routine was solid, but her score of 13.325 left her playing catch-up to the other top gymnasts.

She rallied nicely, though, coming back with a floor routine that is exactly what gymnastics officials had in mind when they changed the rules after Beijing. Hoping to put the “art” back into “artistic gymnastics,” the number of tumbling runs on floor and acrobatic skills on beam have been limited.

Most girls simply twirl their hands in the air a few times, usually not even in time to their music, and call it choreography. Sloan, however, actually incorporated her music into her routine, striking sultry poses that matched her Bollywood-style music and landing her tumbling runs on the beat.

She saved the best for last, though, finishing with a stylish routine on bars. She sailed effortlessly between the high bar and low bar, coming to a dead stop in a perfect handstand at one point.

“I’m definitely happy with my bar routine,” Sloan said. “Today was a good learning experience. I’m very excited to come back Friday and show the real me.”

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