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 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 left off the Olympic team.
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 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 birthdate, 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 and tied with Kristy Powell to win the senior all-around title at the U.S. National Championships. 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.
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--and placed third in the all-around behind Viktoria Karpenko and Simona Amanar.
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. However, she once again fell off the bars and placed third overall. Shortly thereafter, at the Paris-Bercy meet in France, she placed second in the all-around 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 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.
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 and finished fourth. However, at the Olympic Trials a few weeks later, Atler experienced a complete 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.
Vault: Laidout Rudi (first American ever to compete this); Double Twisting Yurchenko; Laidout Cuervo; Handspring Laidout Front.
Floor: Double Layout + Punch Front + Stag Jump in combination; Whip Double Piked; Whip Half + Front Layout Double Full in combination; Double Front Tucked; Two and a Half Twist + Front Layout in combination.
Balance Beam: Punch Front + Jump mount sequence; Layout to two feet; Switch Leap + Gainered Layout in combination; Piked Front + Jump in combination; Tucked Barani; Tucked Double Dismount.
Uneven Bars: Giant One and a Half; Tkatchev; Comaneci Salto; Pak Salto; Full Twisting Double Layout Dismount.