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254: Vanessa Atler




Vanessa Atler is an American treasure and fans have loved her from the moment they first saw her elegant power. She’s a multi-time national champion, multi-World Cup champion, Goodwill Games event champion. She would probably have made the 1996 Olympic team had she been age eligible. She was one of those gymnasts for whom nothing ever worked out the way it should have and fans hearts broke along with her through the 1996-2000 quad. We discuss:

  • Why she requested the interview with us
  • Her thoughts on age limits and specialists (13:10)
  • Elements she worked on but never competed (19:25)
  • Dealing with emotions and tears of frustration
  • The Comaneci-Salto & The Rybackis – (22:34)
    • Why didn’t she just take the Comaneci out of her routine and win all the things? 
    • Beth and Steve’s differing opinions on bars 
    • What worked and didn’t work with the Rybackis 
    • How being at Charter Oak effected her own coaching
    • Did she seek counseling or therapy? (31:01)
  • Her early online presence… and her mom’s (32:50)
    • Epic fluff from 1997 on Vanessa’s online diary
  • 1999 Goodwill Games and Sang Lan’s vault accident (34:43)
  • Why she left the Rybackis (39:00)
  • The real story behind the ankle injury (47:57)
  • Why she did not train with Bela Karolyi (50:47)
  • The letter Larry Nassar said USAG received about him that caused him to be banned from the Ranch (52:16)
  • Pre-2000 Olympics, moving to WOGA (1:00:01)
    • What did and didn’t work for her with Valeri 
    • How Valeri helped make her more confident on bars
    • Weigh-ins (1:04:29)
  • 2000 Olympic Trials
    • When an agent gets into the mix: where the “you didn’t make the team because you were fat” rumor came from (1:08:35)
    • Bela told her he’d put her on the team 
  • Did she try and compete after 2000?
  • What are her feelings toward gymnastics now?
  • Being on the realty show “Starting Over”
  • Outside influences: family members and agents
  • The decision to turn professional
  • Fibromyalgia after her motorcycle accident
  • Dealing with anxiety and food
  • Talking about her support for the defendants in the Larry Nassar case (1:36:00)
  • Worlds in China: Nassar asking who wanted a cortisone shot without parental consent and alone in room (1:39:36)
  • What she overheard during a coaches meeting through the walls of a hotel (1:44:11)
  • Would she want her son to participate in elite gymnastics?
  • What she does to keep gymnastics fun for her gymnasts
  • What are her upcoming plans… is another book in the works?
  • What are her thoughts on the Nassar situation and USAG today?
    • How terrible the food was when she was at the Ranch for national team camp (2:00:11)
    • The group message exchange asking for support for Nassar (2:02:04)
    • Asking for help for her bulimia and being told to do what it takes (2:03:55)



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7 years ago

Kathy Kelly… The shaddeeee!!!!!!!!!

7 years ago

Amazing episode and I’m glad you left in so much content!

Vanessa is so self-reflective and thoughtful that you can gather a ton of meaning from her experiences. I wish there were more gymnasts (and people!) like her! She was amazing to watch in her prime and she’s a great role model to others now.

I wish she could mentor some of the super-talented American athletes who have big headcase issues– they could really learn a lot from her experiences.. (and I’m not really talking about gymnasts; I’m referring to some of the American figure skaters, actually)

7 years ago

Wow. You guys just keep elevating your game. The interview is interesting, heart warming, and revealing of one of the most fascinating gymnasts in the last few decades. One would think that everything has been learned about Atler but not so. Gymcastic brings the perfect blend of intelligence, humor, and responsibility to the sport.

mei g
7 years ago
Reply to  Bryan

I loved it! I also loved watching her in Starting Over! And REALLY hated her b-friend. Made me want tocome threw the screen n show him what ex-gymnasts are made of. I loved her threwing in about the ranch. Honestly, they have throw crazy crap that you cant learn in a week, I\’m just talking about the camps though.

Jenny Zaidi
Jenny Zaidi
7 years ago

Loved it!

So many night have beens in her story. Glad she’s fine about everything now, I’m still frustrated lol… like she saw a psychologist about her bars or m petition stress … madness!!! Such a missed opportunity…. see I’m not letting go! Grr

Ilonka Oszvald
Ilonka Oszvald
7 years ago

Thanks so much for this. So happy to hear Vanessa–she sounds happy and grounded and processed all the awful things that happened to her. Love her coaching philosophy. The Nassar thing is really the tip of the iceberg for USAG. It is a completely dysfunctional organization that has allowed for the systematic abuse of young athletes for decades. Stepping away from the Karolyi ranch is a first step, but will they really act in the best interests of the kids they claim to represent?

robin r
robin r
7 years ago

There will never be another Vanessa!! Her power and expressive dance were just amazing!! I was beyond sad when her career ended the way it did but she is still my all time fave!! Thanks for the great interview!!!

7 years ago

Great podcast. Always loved Vanessa and enjoyed watching her compete

Christina Conyers
Christina Conyers
7 years ago

Thank you for doing an episode on Vanessa Atler. I was a huge fan during her gymnastics career. As a former elite gymnast in the 90\’s at SCATS under Don Peters, I could totally relate to her feelings of having no voice, adults dictating my path without regard to my opinion, pressure about my weight and the constant anxiety due to everyone\’s expectations of me. I remember even begging my parents to allow me to go to Vanessa\’s gym, Charter Oak, because I admired her & so that I could live at home while I trained. In spite of it all, Vanessa has come out a healthy and amazing woman. I only wish I had had a coach like Vanessa when I was younger…one that looked out for the mental, emotional well being of those under her watch. Loved her then and love her now 🙂

6 years ago

I remember Vanessa\’s blog post when she announced she was not making a comeback after Olympics after working at Ben\’s gym. She mentioned her skills were a piked barani beam mount that was layout at the top. She was working on a double front beam dismount. She learned a roundoff half on on vault. She thought it might be possible to do a roundoff half on double front vault. She also worked on a hop full on bars.

6 years ago

What a beautiful podcast.

Vanessa was always my favorite gymnast growing up. I remember writing countless fan letters to her. It\’s so bizarre listening to this interview. She seems so much wiser, more at peace, and I am happy that she is able to reflect back on her gymnastics past with fondness, maturity, and emotional distance. Kudos to her, and for inspiring thousands of children, teens, and adults in the world of gymnastics.

6 years ago

I hope that this message gets to Vanessa. As a competive gymnast I was lucky enough to go to a gym that was NOT like the ones that Vanessa speaks about competing with in Southern California. There were plenty of high pressure gyms in the area and my teammates and I always knew that those gymnastics would (mostly) beat us at the meets, but we also always knew that we were happier than those other kids and that was what mattered. We did gymnastics because we loved our teammates and pushing ourselves to overcome our own fears. It was never about being better than the other kids or about pleasing our parents or coach (although we loved her, too.) I think that this is what Vanessa is speaking about, with some level of self-doubt. I just want to tell her to keep it up. In the end, her kids might not win states, but as someone who came from a \”losing\” gym, it made me a better person!

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