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Romania’s last golden gymnast says goodbye in Nadia Comăneci’s city

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The reeling Romanian women’s gymnastics program suffered two more considerable losses at the world championships this week.

First there was the sight of Larisa Iordache, its all-around star, being carried off the floor with a torn Achilles in qualification warm-ups.

Later that session, Catalina Ponor, the last remaining link to Romania’s most recent golden generation, attempted a layout mount onto the balance beam.

She fell. The eight-woman final will be held on Sunday without her. Onto retirement for the 30-year-old who won three titles at the 2004 Athens Games.

Romania failed to advance a female gymnast to any final at an Olympics or worlds for the first time in more than 50 years.

All this happened on Wednesday in the 1976 Olympic Stadium in Montreal. The city where Nadia Comăneci scored seven perfect 10s and won three gold medals to put Romania on the sports map.

Romania earned women’s team gymnastics medals at every Olympics from 1976 through 2012. The drop-off started after 2004 and hit a nadir last year, when Romania couldn’t qualify for the 12-team Olympic competition.

Comăneci is optimistic about Romania’s future, but it could take several years to rebuild. She was part of a financially backed campaign two years ago to develop 8- and 9-year-old girls.

“The U.S. population is close to four million kids [doing gymnastics]. Go back to Romania, and you have 300, 400,” said Comăneci, who lives in Norman, Okla. “Finding five amazing girls [for an Olympic team] out of four million, the ratio’s a little bit higher, no?”

Ponor will try to help.

She is retiring due to an accumulation of injuries, currently Achilles and back pain and the need for knee surgery. But she will remain visible, hoping to coach after finishing her career with smaller competitions later this year.

“It’s really hard for them, and it’s going to be hard for me to see it from the outside,” said Ponor, who previously left the sport in 2006, 2007 and 2012, but was lured back (“My body is made for gymnastics,” she says, despite all those health problems). “Try to turn them into a stronger team, something that we were before, even if it’s a little hard to do that. … But I hope I can give them motivation to go, move forward and fight.”

Ponor says her two favorite competitions were those 2004 Olympics, where she bagged team, balance beam and floor exercise gold, and this year’s European Championships held in Romania. She won the balance beam over a field that included the Rio gold medalist.

“Everybody said ‘disaster’ in Rio,” Ponor said of her seventh-place beam effort at the Olympics. “I worked so much for showing that was just a moment that didn’t work.

“My career, it’s full. I have everything that I want. Maybe more than I dreamed.”

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MORE: Nadia Comaneci returns to Montreal, linked by more than 1976 Olympics

 

2018 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships broadcast schedule

Matthew Centrowitz, Jenny Simpson
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NBC Sports and NBC Sports Gold combine to air daily live coverage of the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships from Thursday through Sunday in Des Moines, Iowa.

Athletes will compete for national titles and spots on the team for the first Athletics World Cup in London next month. More details on Athletics World Cup qualifying here.

While veteran Olympic champions will miss the event, a new generation of sprinters headlines the entry lists. A full competition schedule is here.

Noah Lyles and Michael Norman, who were fourth and fifth in the 2016 Olympic Trials 200m as 18-year-olds, have been the most impressive U.S. male sprinters this season and go head-to-head for the first time in two years.

Sydney McLaughlin, who reached the Rio Olympic 400m hurdles semifinals as a 17-year-old, is entered in the 400m.

Olympic and world champions also scatter the distance races and field events, including Matthew Centrowitz and Jenny Simpson (1500m), Emma Coburn (3000m steeplechase), Christian Taylor (Olympic triple jump champ also entered in the 400m), Tianna Bartoletta and Jeff Henderson (long jump), Jenn Suhr (pole vault) and Michelle Carter and Ryan Crouser (shot put).

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Day Time (ET) Network Key Events
Thursday 2-11 p.m. NBC Sports Gold 100m first round, 10,000m finals
Friday 12:30-11 p.m. NBC Sports Gold 100m finals, 400m semifinals
11 p.m.-1 a.m. NBCSN, Gold
Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Finals: 400m, 1500m, 100m hurdles
4-6 p.m. NBC, Gold
Sunday 12:30-6 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Finals: 200m, 5000m, 110m hurdles
4-6 p.m. NBC, Gold

Allyson Felix among sprinters to miss USATF Outdoor Championships

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Olympic gold medalists Allyson FelixJustin GatlinTori BowieLaShawn MerrittBrianna McNealKerron Clement and Dalilah Muhammad are among the stars not entered in this week’s USATF Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.

Christian Coleman, who took 100m silver at 2017 Worlds between Gatlin and Usain Bolt, will also miss the event.

Any athlete not on the current entry list will not compete.

Big-name absences aren’t shocking this year given it is the only year in the four-year cycle without an Olympics or world championships to qualify for at nationals.

Felix, Gatlin, Bowie and Coleman have all dealt with injuries or withdrawn from international meets this spring. Merritt hasn’t raced on the Diamond League circuit this season.

Felix, the American record holder with 25 combined Olympic and world outdoor championships medals, will not race at senior nationals for the first time since 2002, when she was 16 years old.

A new generation of sprinters will headline nationals, including Noah Lyles and Michael Norman in the 200m and Sydney McLaughlin in the 400m. Phyllis Francis, the world 400m champion, is entered in the 200m. Kori Carter, the world 400m hurdles champion, is in the 100m hurdles with world-record holder Kendra Harrison.

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MORE: Usain Bolt’s Olympic spikes stolen