The momentous and often elaborate closing ceremony of the Olympic Games signifies the conclusion of seventeen days of intense and exciting international competition. The medals have been claimed, controversies hopefully have been thwarted, memories have been made, and legends have solidified their places in history. But for USA Gymnastics, the closing ceremonies represent the beginning more than the end. Frequently following the final victory ceremony in women’s gymnastics, Team USA faces a fresh slate onto which many up and coming junior gymnasts wish to imprint their own dreams. The birth of a new quad ushers in the time for a new group of gymnasts, each one eager for her chance to shine, to make a name for herself, and to hopefully end up on the next Olympic podium.
In 2008, Rebecca Bross of Plano, Texas, was one of these junior elite gymnasts. Too young by a mere six months to vie for a spot in Beijing, Rebecca burst onto the senior scene in 2009. In her first outing as a senior, NBC already touted her as the next Olympic All-Around champion, despite limited international experience and an ankle injuring hampering her competition. Becca trained at World Olympic Gymnastics Academy, home of the previous two Olympic All-Around gold medalists Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin, and the possibility of Becca following in their chalk-covered footsteps elicited a WOGA “three-peat” sensation. On every US television broadcast, the commentators emphasized the fact that Becca trained at the same gym that produced Nastia and Carly. They mentioned how exciting it would be to have a third gymnast from not only the United States but from the Texas training center win the all-around and wear the gymnastics crown. Becca often fielded questions concerning the potential three-peat, yet her focus remained on her own accomplishments rather than those before her.
Becca lived up to much of the “three-peat” hype in the preliminary stages of the quad. She placed third at Visa National Championships in 2009 and then represented the United States in the All-Around competition at the 2009 World Championships. Becca placed second behind fellow American Bridget Sloan by only .05, and would have won the competition had she not suffered a fall on the last pass of her final event. This extremely close defeat may have served as motivation for Becca for her next season, which would be a great one.
Rebecca started 2010 with a bang as she easily took the American Cup title in Worcester, Massachusetts in March. She then earned the gold medal in the All-Around at the Pacific Rim Championships, where she also placed first in the event finals for beam and floor and earned silver on bars behind Huang Qiushuang. In team finals, Becca contributed the highest scores on bars and beam, which greatly helped Team USA take first place. At the start of the United States’ domestic competitive season at the 2010 Covergirl Classic, Rebecca earned first place on bars and sixth on beam. She then continued her year of domination when she became the all-around national champion, also taking gold on bars and beam along with a silver on floor.
Rebecca competed for the USA at the World Championships again in 2010. During the team competition, she contributed a high score on floor, bars, and beam. Despite the best efforts of Becca and her teammates, however, Team USA earned silver in a narrow loss to Russia. Becca’s preliminary round scores qualified her to the All Around competition. In an attempt to avoid a fall off beam, Becca jumped into a handstand, similarly to a move Nastia Liukin pulled during 2006 US Nationals. Unlike Nastia’s, Becca’s handstand did not prevent her from falling and she subsequently placed third in the competition. She also earned a bronze medal on bars and silver on beam. Throughout the first half of the quad, Becca exhibited a fierce competitive spirit and great tenacity. She set the bar very high for the upcoming year as London swiftly approached.
The penultimate year in a gymnastics quad often foreshadows the Olympic competition and provides insight into who will be the main players in the big event the next year. Unfortunately for Becca, 2011 brought a devastating injury on the second day of Visa Championships with a dislocated kneecap on a crashed double twisting Yurchenko vault. The questions surrounding Becca no longer asked whether or not the world would witness a WOGA three-peat in London. The gymnastics community instead wondered whether or not Rebecca could recover in time to attempt to try out for the Olympic team…or if she could return to the sport at all.
After surgery and months of recovery, Becca returned to gymnastics in 2012 and endeavored to join the USA Olympic team as a bars and beam specialist. Becca competed in her first international competition since 2010 World Championships at the City of Jesolo Trophy in March 2012. Although she incurred an overtime deduction, Becca competed well on beam in her first outing since her injury. She fell on bars but her high difficulty score as well as her obvious determination to continue could not be ignored.
Becca next appeared at the Secret US Classic with her signature ferocity on bars and shades of her old confident self on beam. Less than a year after suffering an injury that caused many to write her off completely, Becca placed third on bars, scoring lower than only Gabby Douglas and Kyla Ross. She made a case for herself on bars but had yet to prove herself on beam. Becca wobbled her way through a beam routine, which can in part be attributed to the fact that she had only competed on this event once in the past year. Despite the wobbles, however, Becca remained on the apparatus, giving hope to those who believed she could still factor into the London decision.
Becca showed improvements on beam at Visa Championships; however she exceeded the time limit on both days and also failed to successfully land her Patterson dismount, which has historically caused problems in competition. The return of her Patterson drew a lot of criticism as she consistently landed in positions that many believed foreshadowed a terrifying knee injury. After she returned from her dislocated knee from vault, it might have been wise of Rebecca and her coaches to select a dismount that would not put her recently recovering knee at further risk. Becca continued to compete the Patterson despite her issues with it, stating prior to the Olympic Trials that no one was pressuring her into doing the dismount; rather, she wanted to prove to herself that she land it and refused to give up until she did. On day one of Nationals, Becca sat down the dismount and in the final round she jumped forward to prevent sitting down. She then received bar scores similar to those she earned at the US Classic, placing fourth after two days of competition. It became clear that Becca had a lot of work to do before Olympic Trials if she wanted to earn a ticket to London.
On the first day of Olympic Trials in San Jose, California, Rebecca’s bar score aligned with those from the US Classic and Visa Championships, which again put her in fourth place on this event; a fall on beam then put the small chance she had of being named to the Olympic Team in serious jeopardy. On day two of Olympic Trials, Becca succumbed to three major errors on bars and failed to complete her routine. Even before the falls, Becca had a slim shot of making the team, as it was well known that Martha Karolyi had already unofficially made her decisions. Additionally, Becca had recently returned from injury and therefore did not have the numbers or recent experience necessary to confidently contribute to an Olympic team. Despite the fact that her performance on beam would not alter her fate, Becca performed an excellent beam routine and finally successfully landed her tumultuous Patterson dismount.
As the newly named 2012 USA Olympic gymnastics team celebrated their livelong achievement, Becca neglected to speak to the press and made a quiet exit that some assumed would serve as her sad departure from elite gymnastics. Many gymnastics fans compared Becca to Vanessa Atler, believing she would retire and doubting that she would extend her career into the next quad with the attempt to go through a second Olympic cycle after such a disappointing first round. Perhaps the injuries had finally caught up with her or she had simply burned out. No one except Becca knew for certain what her future would hold.
In September 2012, Becca embarked on the coast-to-coast Kellogg’s Tour along with the Fierce Five and other members of the United States Women’s and Men’s National Teams. Following the enormous success of the Fierce Five in London, I assumed the shows would focus primarily on these girls and their accomplishments in order to satisfy the small children and “four-year fans” in attendance who will forget the names of most of the Fierce Five within the next few months (if they haven’t forgotten them already). I also thought girls such as Becca, Chellsie Memmell and Anna Li would be relegated to the background as dancers or time fillers while the Fierce Five prepared for their next act. In spite of these assumptions, I was pleasantly surprised to see Becca swinging bars and performing actual skills with her trademark intensity and borderline aggression. Although she fell on a relatively simple transition from low to high bar, she was in much better shape than I had anticipated. Additionally, during a floor portion of show, Becca performed tumbling passes that exceeded expectations.
Becca surprised again when she performed at the Mexican Gala in November 2012, which initially brought into question her future in gymnastics. Why would a presumed retired gymnast from the United States perform at an event for Mexican television? Retired gymnasts from smaller and poorer countries frequently perform at events such as the Mexican Gala for financial gain because they have few other options once they move away from competitive gymnastics. In the United States former gymnastics have numerous opportunities in and out of the sport and usually do not have to rely on exhibitions to support themselves. Regardless of her motivations, Becca performed almost an entire bar set at the Mexican Gala, including her sky-high jaeger and effortless Pak salto. Becca performed a lot of skills before taking a break to catch her breath and chalk up before going for her dismount. It was great to see that she still had the endurance for a near-full routine after spending three months on tour. Becca also performed a watered down version of her floor routine, despite having competed in the 2012 season as a bars and beam specialist. Becca also performed a beam routine and fell on a side somi, which I’m sure she would have fought harder for had she been in a competitive environment. Becca’s appearance in this event as well as her surprisingly good preparation made people wonder if she wished to remain in shape in order to prepare for the 2013 elite season.
As the latest quad draws to a close, numerous juniors find themselves in Becca’s exact same as position four years ago. A few members of the National team have announced their official retirement; some are on their way to NCAA careers, others will leave the sport entirely after attempting to make second Olympic teams, and the future of the Fierce Five remains the most uncertain. In the strong USA junior field, teeming with potential, enthusiasm, and the same competitive spirit Becca once exhibited herself, is there a place in USA gymnastics for a girl like Becca? Should she attempt to expand her career into the next quad – a feat few have done successfully – or should she gracefully retire and avoid further injury to herself? Becca’s future plans remain unclear, as she has not made her intentions known concerning either retirement or a return to elite competition, though rumors recently point to her spending time training in the gym and working choreography for a brand new floor routine, leaving fans to question her future.
I, personally, am wholly in favor of Becca’s continued career. The sport can benefit from someone with her level of drive and determination. Becca is the girl who jumped into a handstand to avoid a fall in competition. She kept a dismount in her routine that many thought she should have ditched years ago and then the we last saw her compete she proved the naysayers wrong and landed on her feet. After she made three major errors on bars on Day 2 of Olympic trials, she knew she was not going to London. She probably knew even before she began the competition that there was a very small chance she would be named to the team after suffering what could have been a career ending injury less than a year prior. Regardless, Becca went to beam and finished what she started. Although she was overshadowed by the final performance(s) of Nastia Liukin, Becca showed the same degree of sportsmanship and class. Gymnasts everywhere can admire Becca’s tenacity and perseverance.
If Becca does decide to compete again, timing will be key. She burst onto the senior stage in 2009 as if London was right around the corner, compared to eventual AA champ Gabby Douglas, who wasn’t on the radar as a serious contender until five months before the Olympic Games began. If she sets her sights on Rio, she will need to pace herself and build up to the Olympics in order to reach her peak when needed. She’ll need to listen to her body to avoid injury and burnout instead of continually pushing herself when she really just needs a rest. Alicia Sacramone and Chellsie Memmel both implemented unique training plans following the 2008 Olympics when their Olympic experiences did not meet their expectations. Becca could follow in their footsteps by slowing down and thinking of the long-term goal if she is aiming for Rio.
Regardless of the Olympics, maybe Becca endeavors to continue competing because she likes it. Maybe behind that “Terminator Face” (Thanks, Al Trautwig), Becca enjoys competition. Additionally, perhaps without the constant pressure of the “three-peat” on her shoulders, Becca could have fun and compete for herself and not worry about establishing a WOGA legacy. Also perhaps some time off from the sport due to her injury reminded her of how much she loves gymnastics and inspired her to continue. Whatever she decides to do, she’ll be great at it and I wish her the best of luck!
Article: Kerry Joyce
Photo: Rebecca Bross