Vanessa Marie Atler is a retired American elite gymnast. She was the 1996 junior all-around National Champion, the 1997 senior all-around National Champion and the 1998 Goodwill Games gold medalist on the floor exercise and vault. At the 1999 American Cup, Atler became the first female American gymnast to successfully perform a Rudi vault.
A member of the U.S. national gymnastics team from the age of 12, Atler was one of the United States' most successful gymnasts as a junior in the late 1990s. Known for her explosive vaults, difficult tumbling skills and outspoken personality, she won or medaled in several important meets, including the Goodwill Games, and was considered to be one of the front-runners for the 2000 Olympics. However, injuries, coaching conflicts and gym changes derailed her progress in 1999 and 2000, and after a poor showing at the 2000 Olympic Trials, she was controversially left off the Olympic team despite placing sixth overall.
Atler was born on February 17, 1982 in Valencia, California and began gymnastics at the age of 5. By the time she was 12 years old, she was competing at the elite level.
As a junior elite gymnast, Atler had a fruitful career. In 1995, she gained attention by placing third in the all-around, behind Olympian Kerri Strug and Heather Brink, at the U.S. Olympic Festival and winning the silver medal in the all-around at that year's U.S. National Championships.
Atler also made her international competitive debut in 1995, winning the floor exercise title at the prestigious International Junior Gymnastics Competition in Japan. She continued to enjoy success in 1996, as she became the junior all-around U.S. National Champion and was invited to participate in a televised exhibition meet, USA vs. the World, with members of the Magnificent Seven and international Olympians.
With her February 1982 birth date, Atler missed the age cutoff for senior competition—which would have given her a chance to compete for a spot on the 1996 Olympic team—by only six weeks. In 1997, she found herself shut out of senior international competition once again, as the FIG raised the age limit from fifteen to sixteen. Nonetheless, Atler competed well in 1997, participating in both junior events and senior meets that were not bound by the FIG's new age restrictions. She placed second at the 1997 American Cup where she also won two golds on beam and vault in the event finals and tied with Kristy Powell to win the senior all-around title at the U.S. National Championships.At that same edition of the National Championships,Atler also won gold on vault and tied with teammate Jamie Dantzscher for bronze on bars. She also won the 1997 Canberra Cup in Australia, an important meet for junior international gymnasts.
In 1997, however, Atler began to experience problems on the uneven bars. On the second day of the U.S. Nationals, a fall from the apparatus kept her from winning the title outright. This marked the beginning of a string of competitions in which she suffered unusual mistakes and misses on bars. In her diary, she once referred to the bars as "the devil--testing my will and my patience, even my love for the sport." Over the next few years, bars would become a mental block for the young athlete who time after time failed to put together a mistake-free routine in the heat of competition.
In 1998, Atler was finally age-eligible for senior competition. The year got off to an inauspicious start, as another fall from the bars cost her the all-around title at the American Cup. She placed fourth overall,despite winning a bronze on bars in the event finals thanks to a rare hit routine and defending her vault title.
At the 1998 Goodwill Games, Atler was chosen to compete on floor exercise and vault, her two strongest apparatus. She won both events, defeating, in the process, a roster of Olympic and World medalists. She had a similarly strong showing at the 1998 Copa Gimnastica in Mexico City in the fall, where she had a good competition on all four events, including bars, won the gold on vault and placed third in the all-around behind Viktoria Karpenko and Simona Amânar.
At the 1998 U.S Nationals,Atler fell from bars on the first day of competition and ended the preliminaries in sixth. She,however,won gold on floor,silver on vault,and came back in the finals to hit her bars routine (scoring her personal best ever) and win the silver in the all-around behind Kristen Maloney thanks to good performances on all events.
In 1999, however, Atler had significant struggles. Early in the year, at the American Cup, she became the first American woman to successfully complete a Rudi vault in competition, and won the gold medal on the event,as well as on floor and beam.However, she once again fell off the bars at both stages of competition and placed third in the all-around. Shortly thereafter, at the Paris-Bercy meet in France, she placed second in the all-around to Svetlana Khorkina whilst competing in a field that included gymnasts by the likes of Simona Amanar and Viktoria Karpenko, whom she defeated thanks also to earning the best score of the day on floor,and won another vault gold medal but severely injured her ankle during the floor exercise final when she landed out-of-bounds, in an area without protective safety mats, after her first tumbling pass. Atler recovered in time to compete at the 1999 U.S. Nationals, where she won the event titles on the vault and the balance beam. However, in the all-around, she once again fell from bars and finished second to Kristen Maloney.Following the U.S. Nationals, Atler left her longtime coaches at Charter Oak gymnastics club, Steve and Beth Rybacki. She was too injured to compete at the U.S. World Team trials, but was petitioned onto the team on the strength of her scores at Nationals. Competing at the 1999 World Championships in Tianjin, China, Atler was injured, out of shape and unprepared for the meet. The stress proved to be too great as she only hit one clean routine throughout the team competition, and scored in the low 8s and 9s on bars and beam. She qualified for the all-around finals, but, struggling with her injury, placed 31st in the all-around. After the World Championships, Atler had surgery twice on her ankle.Her injury had been misdiagnosed as a sprain but x-rays after Worlds revealed bone chips had broken. Atler had also elected to withdraw from the floor final that she had qualified in fourth for, and the beam final where she would have replaced also injured teammate Kristen Maloney.
In late 1999, Atler moved to Texas to train with 1988 Olympic champion Valeri Liukin at the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy (WOGA). Still struggling with her bars performances, she performed respectably at the 2000 U.S. Nationals,finishing fourth in the all-around and winning silver on floor and bronze on vault. However, at the Olympic Trials a few weeks later, Atler experienced what many considered a meltdown. She was unable to hit even one clean routine over the two days of competition, and botched moves that she usually performed well, changing her vault in mid-air, modifying tumbling passes on floor and falling on her back on her balance beam dismount. As a result, the Olympic Selection Committee opted to leave her completely off the U.S. Olympic Team. However, even with major mistakes in each routine, Atler managed to place sixth at trials, causing some to argue that she had earned a spot on the team and to question the fairness of the selection process. Six athletes were named to the team as well as two alternates.
Atler retired in April 2001 from competitive gymnastics,after performing in the post-Olympic tour during fall 2000 and having trained for a short period of time at Rohnert Park Gymnastics with Ben Corr.
Atler currently coaches at the American Kids Sports Center in Bakersfield, California.
Appearences in other medias
Atler's large popularity led her to becoming a professional athlete at a young age. During her elite career,she competed in various professional competitions such as the Reese's Cup and the Rock'N'Roll Championships, appeared in commercials for the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and the U.S. Olympic Committee and in documentaries for ESPN (Scholastic Sports America) and Fox Sports (Going Deep).
|1994||Junior U.S. Classic||3rd||1st||1st||2nd|
|1995||Junior American Classic||4||3rd|
|Junior Coca-Cola Championships||2nd||2nd|
|U.S. Olympic Festival||3rd||6||6||1st||2nd|
|International Junior Gymnastics Competition||4||4||1st|
|1996||Junior American Classic||1st||1st||1st||1st|
|Junior Coca-Cola Championships||1st|
|City of Popes Competition||9||2nd|
|1997||John Hancock Championships||1st||1st||3rd||10||5|
|International Team Championships||2nd|
|1998||John Hancock Championships||2nd||2nd||25||5||1st|
|International Team Championships||1st||6||4||14||2nd||4|
|Pacific Alliance Championships||1st||1st||1st|
|New York Goodwill Games||1st||1st|
|John Hancock Championships||2nd||1st||1st|
|Bercy World Cup||2nd||1st|
|Pontiac International Team Meet||2nd|
|Tianjin World Championships||6|
|John Hancock Championships||4||2nd||6||3rd|
|Pacific Alliance Championships||1st||3rd|
|U.S. Olympic Trials||6|
1995-1996 - Phill's Piano Solo by Terry Fryer
1997-1998 - Jack's Conga by Micheal Kamen
1998-1999 - "La Cumparsita" by M.Rodriguez