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Former US Gymnast Vanessa Atler Reveals So Much of Behind The Scenes US Gymnastics Secrets

Former American gymnast Vanessa Atler gave a lengthy interview to Gymcastic where she opened up on what really happened during her compe...

Former American gymnast Vanessa Atler gave a lengthy interview to Gymcastic where she opened up on what really happened during her competitive gymnastics career.

ِIn late 90s, Atler was a very famous promising athlete. She performed a number of difficult elements like double layout (F) to forward tuck (A) worth 0.2 connection bonus on floor exercise, two back handsprings (B) to layout to two feet (E) worth 0.2 connection bonus and forward pike (E) on balance beam, and full twisting double layout dismount (E) on uneven bars.

Atler was the first gymnast to perform the difficult Rudi vault. Unfortunately, the vault was not named after her since she never performed it at a World championships or an Olympic Games.  (See: Meet The Originators: Handspring One And A Half Forward Twisting Layout (Rudi) Vault)

She was also known for having a bright and bubbly personality. Unfortunately, Vanessa suffered from mental and physical issues which prevented her from living up to her full potential such as injuries and mental breakdowns. Coaching conflicts and gym changes has as well contributed to end of her career.

Tumbler blogger illyria and her pet wrote a summary of the former gymnast's Gymcastic interview:
  • Vanessa contacted gymcastic for an interview after seeing that Larry Nassar spoke about being banned from camp for a certain amount of time cause a gymnast wrote a letter about him. Gym fans thought Vanessa was the one who wrote the letter and she wanted to clarify that she had no idea about the letter.

  • Vanessa’s thoughts on the age limit are that she goes back and forth, but she thinks it hasn’t stopped young gymnasts from facing the same pressure and difficulty as senior gymnasts, so it sucks cause if you’re born at the wrong time you have to wait 4 years and make sure you’re not hurt or go crazy.

  • Vanessa says it would have been nice to have the specialist choice and in 1998, she would have wanted to give up bars, but her coaches the Rybackis probably would have convinced her that she could still do bars and the all around and it was always one of her dreams to go to the Olympics and compete in the all around and maybe get a medal. She doesn’t think she was born at the wrong time or in the wrong quad because things are always changing and she can’t complain cause she still had a great career.

  • Vanessa is asked if she had any big skills she did in training, she said she didn’t really do anything (maybe some full twisting double layouts into a soft mat on the pit) as Beth and Steve mostly just had her do what was already in her routines since she had a lot of anxiety and they wanted her to do skills she was comfortable with to keep her calm.

  • Vanessa was the one who told her coaches that she wanted the Comaneci salto in her bar routine because you don’t have to travel over the bar on the release and her Tkatchev was already pretty dumpy.

  • The media would always interview her before she does bars and she would say that she’s doing good in training and everything is fine, so when she actually gets up to bars she would be thinking about how she told the media it was okay and it would be embarrassing if she messed up.

  • Vanessa doesn’t think that Steve was to blame for her mental block on bars by not taking out the Comaneci salto. She still had problems on bars after it was taken out by Valeri and if it wasn’t the Comaneci salto, she would have still developed a mental block somewhere else because that was the type of person she was. She thinks Steve wanted to help her not just as a gymnast, but as a person by making the Comaneci salto something she could overcome like a life lesson.

  • Vanessa coaches her kids in the way that if she died on the way to the competition or something, her kids would still be able to chalk the bars and be okay. She doesn’t think she would have ever been able to do anything without her coaches cause she was raised to be dependent on them.

  • Vanessa only went to a sports psychologist when she was a level 5 gymnast and kept falling off beam. She never saw a sports psychologist when she was an elite, but thinks that she should have. When she was at WOGA she did see an actual therapist because she was depressed. She thinks seeing a therapist made her feel worse because she needed a therapist that gives her answers on what to do, while that therapist was the type that made you talk out your life which made her more depressed and realize that her life sucks.

  • Vanessa remembers she was next in line to vault after Sang Lan (paralyzed) former gymnast) did in warm ups. She didn’t see the actual vault, but she did see her land on her back and all the coaches run up to help her. Steve then told her to turn around and do mental routines. She felt horrible about what happened to Sang Lan, but it didn’t really affect her in competition because she’s not the type that gets affected by any mistakes or injuries of her competitors. I don’t know if I’m phrasing this stuff right and I don’t want to make Vanessa look bad because she didn’t say anything bad, so I want to note that she was asked a question about if Sang Lan’s injury affected her in the competition and that she didn’t bring that up on her own.

  • Vanessa heard from a lot of people that Steve said awful things to her or something during 1999 Nationals, but she doesn’t remember anything awful being said. She just remembers that Steve was really upset and stopped talking to her until event finals the next day and that Beth kind of had to take over. 

  • Vanessa was really upset that Steve stopped talking to her for a bit because she felt that she always wanted to be the perfect, coachable student and was so nice and kind and defended him for keeping the skill in, so she snapped and was like “how dare you not speak to me after all I did for you.”

  • Vanessa heard about how her agent (Sheryl Shade), mom, and Bob Colarossi were talking about maybe bringing Bela Karoyli out of retirement to coach her. Her mom asked her maybe you should train with Bela and she was like no way because she heard all the horror stories about Bela and was like “if I can’t handle Beth and Steve, how would I handle Bela?”

  • Vanessa had her dad on the phone to tell Steve that she was leaving and Steve was begging her dad to let him to talk to her and apologizing and admitting he was wrong. Vanessa wouldn’t talk to him because she knew if she did, she would just agree to comeback. She regrets not talking to him back then, because 1999 was basically the last time she spoke to him before they reconciled.

  • It’s not true that she went into 1999 Worlds without a coach. Bob Colarossi and Kathy Kelley heard about her leaving Steve, they freaked out, and then sent her Artur Akopyan. Artur basically let her do whatever she wanted, so she just got to hang out and do some routines at AOGC. So when it came to Worlds she was really out of shape and she was also still dealing with an ankle injury from when she punched out of a really hard surface at that competition in France. Worlds was really awkward too because Beth and Steve were there to coach Jamie Danztscher. Steve was trying to give Artur tips on how to deal with Vanessa, but Artur wasn’t having any of it.

  • After Worlds, Bela was supposed to coach her. Her agent and mom were trying to contact Bela, but he wasn’t responding, despite agreeing to it. He finally contacted them back and said he couldn’t coach her because he accepted the job of being national team coordinator. Vanessa was like “yaaaay” because she didn’t have to be coached by Bela, lol.

  • Vanessa and Larry Nassar spoke about Bela and both agreed that he was a hard coach. Vanessa wanted to clarify that she would never write a letter to USAG saying that she was lied to and that Larry said Bela was abusive because she’s not the type that would want to ruffle feathers and would be too scared about backlash. She thinks what could have happened is that either her mom or agent were upset and wrote that letter. She doesn’t want to speak to her mom about it and doesn’t want to know because she doesn’t want to go through all that with her mom.For a backstory on this, here’s what Larry said in his gymcastic interview back in 2013 about it. 

  • Vanessa agrees that Larry wouldn’t say that Bela is abusive and that they just agreed that Bela is a lot harder than Beth and Steve. She thinks what it all came down to was that she was too afraid to stand up for what she wanted, which was really to just quit. She thinks what she should have done was just stop running away from everything and talked to Beth and Steve instead of leaving them.

  • No one would let Vanessa quit because they knew she liked to run away from things, so they thought it would be better for her if she got through it. So she just continued to do gymnastics to make everyone else happy.

  • Bela eventually called her and told her that he can’t coach her, but recommended Valeri Liukin/WOGA and said that Bela would come by every month or something to see how she’s doing.

  • Vanessa finally got ankle surgery and was like wheeled into Texas by her mom. Valeri and Bela were there waiting for her and Vanessa says their faces were like “oh god she’s one of those girls who thinks her foot is hurt or something” and that she was really embarrassed. 

  • Vanessa says she thinks Valeri was a nice man and that there were moments she enjoyed training with him, but that he was new and didn’t really know what the right things to do were. She doesn’t blame him, but thinks that it was the wrong choice for her to go to WOGA.

  • What worked with Valeri was how he coached bars because he was very hands on and did a lot of spotting, so it helped her be more confident, since Beth and Steve weren’t as hands on and were more about drills. She also liked that after every practice everyone would get a hug and that Valeri brought her to his house and she got to meet Nastia when she was 10 or 11 and that they’re a nice family. They also helped pay for the apartment Vanessa was living in.

  • It was difficult for Vanessa to adjust to Valeri after being with Steve for so long because whenever she was doing vault or floor, she would be thinking what did Steve tell me to do.

  • The worst part about Valeri was how he dealt with weight. Vanessa never had any issues with weight until then. During her last year with Steve, Steve started weighing her and Jamie, but Vanessa never had any problems. Steve would just weigh her, write it down, and then give her a thumbs up. However, Vanessa did start being aware of the numbers, which was bad for her thought process. So if one day she was 105 pounds and then another she was 106 pounds, she would start training harder just because she thought one pound was a lot, even though she now realizes it’s nothing.

  • Vanessa gained 5 pounds because of her surgery and not working out as much. Valeri freaked out on her because of the 5 pound weight gain. He was like we have to get this weight off of you and put her on a diet. She had never been on a diet before and didn’t know how to deal with it because she used to just eat whatever she wants and is an emotional eater, so if she was stressed she would eat a lot.

  • Vanessa would get stressed out about not losing weight, so then would eat a lot from the stress. But then she would throw up what she ate because Valeri weighed her 3 times a day.

  • In Valeri’s office there was a scale and a paper where she had to weigh herself and then write down her weight for the beginning of the day. Then after work outs she would have to weigh herself and write it again. Then at the night before the last workout of the day she would have to write down her weight for the 3rd time.

  • Vanessa was told not to drink water because it made her look bloated. And then after she already did all the training at WOGA, Valeri’s wife, Anna, would take her to a regular gym to work out on the treadmills. That was the moment where she thought that they didn’t know what they were doing and she at 18 did know what was right, but she wasn’t gonna speak out about it and get in trouble.

  • Vanessa didn’t throw up because she thought she was fat. She just didn’t want to write down after the weigh ins that she gained weight. She stopped throwing up after she was done with Valeri.

  • To this day, Vanessa feels messed up about her weight because of Valeri and she now gets really upset when she sees or hears that coaches are weighing their kids.

  • About the rumor that Valeri told Vanessa after she didn’t make the team at 2000 Olympic trials that she was fat: Valeri gave Vanessa one hug and then didn’t speak to her at all. He talked to her agent and said that Vanessa didn’t make the team because she was fat. Vanessa’s agent told her mom and her mom told Vanessa.

  • Vanessa was having tons of trouble in training and couldn’t get through her floor routine. Bela was watching and pulled her aside in the tunnel to tell her to not worry and that if something happened, she would still make the team because he’s on the selection committee. 

  • After the first day of Olympic trials, Bela called her agent and said that the rest of the selection committee didn’t want her on the team. Her agent told her mom who told Vanessa. So Vanessa basically knew she wouldn’t make the team and wanted to do really well the 2nd day to make it a big controversy over whether she should have made it, but she still did horrible anyways.

  • A few years ago Tracee Talavera told Vanessa that she was sticking up for her and wanted her to make the team and was gonna tell her everything that Bela and the rest of the committee said, but Vanessa didn’t want to hear it because she moved on with her life and forgave a lot of people.

  • Vanessa says that she thinks Valeri is a different man now, has learned a lot, and at the core is a good person. She doesn’t think they made the wrong choice to make him team coordinator or anything and that he’ll do a good job. She thinks he’ll make mistakes and that people will be upset about it, but overall his intentions are good.

  • Vanessa didn’t watch any of the 2000 Olympics when it was live. The only thing she heard and was worried about was Jamie’s dad getting into an accident. 

  • Vanessa did try to comeback after 2000 by training with Ben Char (sp?) who was friends with Steve and who she thought was a really nice person. But she realized she still had issues with her weight and wasn’t doing it for the right reasons, so she told Ben and he was great about it. He’s one of her favorite people. 

  • Vanessa tried to comeback again with Steve, but he didn’t think she could be serious about a comeback and just had her conditioning like once a week. Someone got wind of it and started Vanessa is coming back rumors and she was like “nope, I’m done with that. I was just conditioning.“ She realized she had too much anxiety and couldn’t handle the pressure, so she moved on.

  • Vanessa is never angry at gymnastics because she loves it, but she was angry at adults and USAG for not having the best interests of the kids at hand.

  • As a coach, Vanessa always talks to her kids about whether they want to quit and if they’re afraid to tell their parents and makes sure they want to do gymnastics because they love it and are having fun, not for validation or popularity or something.

  • Vanessa wants other coaches to realize that what they do ends up shaping how the kids become as adults because they’re watching everything you do and say and that they need to know that it’s okay to apologize and tell the kids that they’re human and were wrong.

  • Vanessa joined “Starting Over” because she thought it would help her lose weight, but it helped her stop being angry and make peace with her family, boyfriend, coaches, etc.

  • Starting Over made her go out on the streets and ask people if they thought her not making the Olympics made her a failure. It helped her grow up and accept things when she realized no one cared or thought that she was a failure. 

  • Vanessa regrets going pro and wishes her parents would have told her that education comes first. She wishes she had an NCAA experience after seeing people like Jamie’s at UCLA.

  • Vanessa felt the need to defend the victims of Larry Nassar because she saw a lot of people saying that because they had a good experience with Larry, the victims must be lying and out for money. It made her really upset and brought her back to times when she was speaking and no one would listen. She had a good experience with Larry and that he was nice and would be the gymnasts’ “buddy.” But as someone who had a good experience with Larry, she wanted to speak out and say that just because you had a good experience doesn’t mean that the bad things aren’t true and that you should keep it to yourself and wait until everything comes out. 

  • At 1999 Worlds, Vanessa was dealing with an ankle injury and Kristen Maloney was dealing with shin problems. Larry Nassar came in and was like “who wants a cortisone shot?” Vanessa didn’t want one because she was scared of needles. Kristen got it to compete and Larry just did it alone with Kristen without getting parental permission. And Vanessa felt terrible like she wasn’t a good gymnast because she didn’t get the shot, which might have helped her in the competition. She thinks part of the problem at USAG is things like that where they pressure you to do things or make it seem like you’re a failure.

  • The walls were so thin at the hotel for 1999 Worlds and Vanessa and Elise Ray overheard the coaches speaking in the other room. They heard Kathy Kelley say that this was the worst team they’ve ever had and then Kathy knocked on their door and was like “is everyone ready to go shopping :D” and she and Elise were staring at each other like “what an evil person.”

  • Vanessa thinks USAG didn’t like that their era of gymnasts were all friends and outspoken about their treatment unlike the last generation.

  • Vanessa says she would probably let her son do gymnastics because she saw that the guys were able to talk back and forth with their coaches, while for girls at her time you had to do everything the coach said. Even though everyone, both guys and girls, seem a lot happier these days, she doesn’t think she could handle it if she had a daughter and put her in gymnastics. 

  • Vanessa is asked if she thinks the age limit should be raised to 18 like it is for guys. She says she doesn’t think it has to do with the age because you’ll be treated like that in the gym anyways and she thinks the guys are just treated better than the girls by their coaches. 

  • Vanessa had a book written that was supposed to be published by USAG before the Olympics, but it ended up not getting published because of all the stuff with Larry Nassar.

  • Vanessa says she loves Beth and Steve Rybacki and that she thinks they are great coaches who also have the best intentions for their kids in mind.

  • Vanessa thought she was coming full circle with forgiving USAG with making a book with them, but now with everything that came out with Nassar she doesn’t know.

  • Vanessa says she doesn’t really care if everyone at USAG gets fired. She just wants the best for the kids and all the procedures changed and enforced. She thinks that the athlete representative stuff is BS and that there’s no one to actually protect the kids. She hopes that the backlash gets them scared and that they finally make meaningful changes.

  • The ranch had the awful, cheapest food that was like a single frozen slice of pizza like school cafeteria food. Meanwhile, the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado had like special cafeterias for each type of athlete for the amount of protein they need, etc. 
  • Someone sent Vanessa a message that said that Larry once slipped his fingers in her vagina and that he apologized and said he was wrong and that the people accusing him are probably misunderstanding his treatment. They said that you should send Larry messages of support to his lawyer and that Alison Arnold (a consultant for USAG) said it was okay.

  • The day before the Olympic trials there was like a room of judges and stuff. Vanessa walked in and started crying and talking about how she was eating a lot and making herself throw up. They told her that you have to do what you have to do to stay in shape and make the team and basically told her to eat less. 

By Gigi Farid

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