The first video I ever saw of Vanessa Atler was a floor exercise on youtube. It was amazing. The dynamism, the power, the height....it was truly brilliant. Having been too young to follow gymnastics religiously at the time of the 2000 olympics, when I first saw the video my first thought was simple: where the hell was she in Sydney? My question was soon answered.
The next video I saw of Vanessa was her bars routine at the 1999 worlds. It was painful to watch. Those laboured pirouettes, that bail-out swing. It was like every muscle in her body was tensed with the nervousness of the situation: a complete antithesis to everything she could do on floor.
The video evidence of Vanessa’s mental block is widespread, well watched and well known. The saddest to watch are those where her meltdowns extend beyond her demon apparatus and onto her good ones: a particular example being her beam at the 1999 team finals, where she runs tentatively into a skill and changes her mind.
The nervousness, embarrassment and failure Vanessa must have felt on all these occasions, owing to the huge pressure on her to succeed make this footage very difficult to watch. Even worse are the documentaries of her sadness and depression following her failure to make the 2000 Olympic team (a mistake, in my opinion, even with her inconsistencies) and her subsequent departure from the sport.
In considering Vanessa Atler, one also thinks of Catalina Ponor, Cheng Fei, Alicia Sacramone, and every other successful world level gymnast who cut bars out of their training and focused on the power events. Vanessa Atler is a classic example of a gymnast born at the “wrong” time and destined to compete in the “wrong” quad. In a time where being an all around gymnast was key to success and acceptance, Vanessa’s world gymnastics career was doomed to failure. After all, there is no point in being an all arounder, despite how good the gymnast may be on the other 3 events, if the 4th event is going to lose it for them anyway. Had she trained 3 events only, her story may have ended in a completely different way.
Despite the way things ended, I will always remember Vanessa as a wonderful gymnast, and forever associate her with that beautiful DLO, punch front, double stag. Breathtaking.