This current generation of gymnasts is incredible, performing skills we never thought possible with ease and finesse. But let’s be real – we all wish our favorites would never retire so we can continue watching them until the end of time.
Sadly, though, the reality is that no gymnast aside from Oksana Chusovitina will vault her way all the way to a retirement home. Our hearts break when they announce the end of their careers, but when they don’t have the greatest outing in their final competitive moments, there’s always a glimmer of hope that we’ll see them again.
1. Alicia Sacramone
You were so excited the day Alicia announced her first comeback. The chance for redemption after her slightly disappointing Olympic Games? YES PLEASE. Though she had her doubters, her comeback was better than anything anyone could have imagined and you may have even cried tears of joy with her every routine. She looked stronger than ever on her two pet events, and walked away from the 2010 World Championships with the vault gold and the highest execution score out of any athlete in beam finals.
When she added her epic floor routine in 2011, you lost your mind. Oh, and she also submitted a brand new vault – a handspring front layout with TWO TWISTS, a step up from her Rudi – to the FIG at Worlds that year with the hopes of successfully landing it and getting it named after her. At this point, we were CONVINCED that Alicia would go down in history as the next Chusovitina – she’s indestructible, we said! She gets better with age! She’s going to take over the world!
And then…the Achilles tear heard ’round the world. We never saw that floor routine on the international stage. We never got to see the Sacramone vault become a reality. We cried as our hopes and dreams slowly faded away, pausing our sobs only to let our inner Adele break free (“WE COULD HAVE HAD IT AAAAAAAALL”).
Comeback number two came in 2012, but with very little time to prepare after her injury and with Air Maroney waiting in the wings, we knew deep down it wasn’t meant to be. She finished her career at the 2012 Olympic Trials with good routines but not even a consolation prize alternate spot. When she walked out of the arena, she left the sport behind her. It’s been two years, but we’re still secretly holding out hope that she’ll return again. The last time she retired wasn’t for real, right? It could still happen!
2. Rebecca Bross
Maybe there was just too much hype around Becca and her senior debut – it couldn’t have been easy being a hotly anticipated gymnast from the gym that produced the two Olympic all-around champions before her. We tried not to listen as commentators yelled “WOGA THREEPEAT!” every time she appeared on screen, but come on. We definitely bought it, especially when she started raking in the medals.
After two years of getting our hopes up about Becca, she began to unravel; it happened quietly at first, as she declined her offer to compete at the 2011 American Cup and then took time off from training as she recovered from nagging injuries. But before she knew it, the CoverGirl Classic had arrived and she wasn’t ready. She broke down into tears at podium training before withdrawing from the meet, but as fans we weren’t worried. We knew she could sometimes be inconsistent, but we also learned to never count her out. She could definitely pull through and make it all the way to the Olympics!
Everything changed on the second day of competition at the 2011 Visa Championships when Becca busted her knee on vault. We cringe just thinking about it. Unlike Alicia’s injury, which occurred behind closed doors in a Tokyo training hall, everyone in the arena and tuned into NBC saw her fall and heard her cries.
She returned about seven months later looking rocky in Jesolo and having scrapped vault and floor from her repertoire, but again, we kept the faith. Until it became evident at Classics, Nationals, and the unfortunate Olympic Trials – where she counted multiple heartbreaking falls on bars before stepping off the podium without dismounting – that she was done. She hit beam in the next rotation – her last routine ever competed – but it’s the bars that are unfortunately remembered.
Our hope for Becca now is that she’s happy and healthy…but I mean, we also might hope just a tiny bit that she decides to give it one more try. Whenever she posts a video on Instagram of herself in the gym “just messing around,” we start to wonder. I mean, did you see that double arabian?! Sure, it was on Tumbl Trak and she sat it and yes, we’re grasping at straws, but again…you never count her out.
3. Ana Porgras
Ana was our great hope for the return of Romanian gymnastics domination, but it was a hope dashed far too quickly. Though pretty successful while climbing the ranks as a junior, her senior debut was marred by nagging injuries. Yet still, despite these issues, she managed to walk away with a nice selection of medals.
Beauty and grace? Long and clean lines on bars? A really strong all-arounder? We hadn’t been this excited about a Romanian since the glory days of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Sure, there were other strong and solid Romanians out there, but Ana was one of whom you spoke in hushed tones like she was the second coming of Nadia.
So we were a bit shocked when she abruptly announced her retirement in early 2012 just seven months before the Olympic Games. We cried for days! But in hindsight, we can see that she had been struggling, especially after missing out on bars and beam finals during qualifications and placing sixth in the all-around finals at the 2011 World Championships. An injured elbow at a training camp was the final straw.
Ana decided to move on well before we were ready to let her go. But while she’s off doing who knows what, as far away from gymnastics as she can possibly be, we will never get over how suddenly she left us and yearn for her return.
4. Georgia Simpson
Georgia was one of those gymnasts most didn’t really notice until she bounced into our view at the 2012 American Cup. Once in the shadows of superstar Lauren Mitchell and powerful Emily Little, we were now blown away by her beautiful long lines and breathtaking choreography and began picturing the lovely Australian at the London Olympics and beyond. She was right in front of us the whole time! We were just distracted and didn’t notice, but when we finally did catch on, our immediate love for her ran deep and strong.
Of course, like most of our broken dreams, we watched our newly-formed plans for Georgia’s reign fade away with a horrifying injury at the 2012 Pacific Rim Championships. Never has an arena been so quiet and in shock as they were when Georgia went down with an open ankle dislocation.
We hoped Georgia would heal and reappear in 2013 to make another attempt but after a long, hard look at her physical and mental condition in the world of elite gymnastics, she decided to use her talents elsewhere – the circus! Kind of. Georgia received a scholarship to attend L’École Nationale de Cirque in Montreal, a school devoted to advanced circus arts training. She will finish the program in August 2015 with a formal audition for Cirque du Soleil.
Like most of these ladies, Georgia has moved on, but we haven’t. There is plenty of room in the sport for an athlete of her grace and beauty, and we wouldn’t mind if she changed her mind at any moment…
5. Chellsie Memmel
Chellsie had simultaneously the best and worst luck of any elite gymnast we can think of. She went to the 2003 World Championships at the third alternate but completely dominate and lead the team to its first gold…and then she got injured before the Olympic Trials in 2004. In 2005, she became the world all-around champion…and then injured her shoulder at Worlds a year later (though competed anyway to help the team). She had a killer 2008 Olympic Trials, bringing the arena to its feet with her floor routine…and then sustained another injury in Beijing where she could compete only on bars.
Her comeback in 2011 was a gift we never expected. With a year before the Olympics, she looked like she was ready to dominate with all-around potential that got her a CoverGirl Classic bronze…and that was with a three year break between meets! But once again, it wasn’t meant to be…as she fought for a spot on the podium at nationals, she aggravated her shoulder on bars and couldn’t finish her routine. She was named to the team traveling to the Pan American Championships later that fall, but withdrew in order to save herself for London.
Though we thought 2012 would so be her year, the Gym Gods had other plans. Even if the Olympics weren’t in the cards, we were excited to see how she looked…and judging by what we saw during podium training at Classics, we had a lot to be excited about. Wanting to save the best for nationals, Chellsie opted to compete only on beam…where she had an uncharacteristic two falls and earned possibly the lowest score of her ten-year elite career.
Thus began the infamous Memmelgate, where Chellsie’s petition to nationals was declined and she was gently nudged toward retirement. An online petition garnered thousands of signatures and we hoped that maybe it might work, if only because we didn’t want that beam routine to be the last routine etched in our minds.
Though it didn’t work out for her, she remains in the gym as a coach and on the floor as a judge…and even bizarrely announced a (short-lived) return to the sport as a T&T athlete (though this seemed more an ad for Tumbl Trak equipment than anything else, as the majority of the publicity surrounding her new venture revolved around videos of herself on a trampoline as a tiny child and then installing a new rod floor in her parents’ gym).
Today, Memmel adorably announced that she is expecting so I doubt we’ll see her tumbling anytime soon, but still we secretly hold onto the hope that she’ll sneak her way back into competition after her baby is born, if only so the woman who saved the U.S. team time and time again can retire on her own terms.
Sandra was one of those gymnasts who, no matter what, was always a joy to watch. Consistently placing as a top all-arounder as well as a vault and floor extraordinaire throughout her long career, we loved watching this tall Romanian goddess constantly remind us that Romanian gymnastics is legendary.
Always the team player, we loved watching her reactions to winning gold for her floor performance at the Olympic Games in 2008…and then again when she earned a surprise gold on vault at the London Games four years later. Is there anything better than watching a happy gymnast succeed?
So we were crushed when she fell during the 2012 Olympic floor finals. But it’s okay, we told ourselves. Because Sandra’s totally coming back in 2013. She seemed poised to return for just one more medal, finishing her career with a gold on the event she fell on the year before. Then she could go happily into retirement.
Sandra did come back, and life was glorious. But despite qualifying second into the 2013 World Championship floor finals, she fell again when it counted and went home in seventh place. Our collective hearts broke. This isn’t what we wanted! Sandra wasn’t supposed to end with a fall!
We beg of you, please give elite gymnastics one last try. That’s all we want – one last chance to watch your beautiful routines and powerful tumbling before ending your career on a high note at the top of the podium. That’s what you deserve.
We’ve showed you ours, now you show us yours! Vote for the gymnast you most want to make a comeback in the poll below. Did you click ‘other’? Sound off in the comments and tell us why!
Article by Jackie Klein
With some additional fangirling by Lauren Hopkins