During the past couple of years there were lots of questions regarding Sabrina Vega’s status. Was her mind still set on elite after all the health problems she has had? Was she still considering competing at NCAA? Was she even eligible to compete as a college athlete? And if she was, why had she not shown interest in any college even though she was a 20-years-old in a sport where most athletes commit at 14? And where would she want to go? Sabrina answered all those questions yesterday, when she announced that she had decided to put an end to her successful elite career in order to compete for the University of Georgia.
Sabrina’s journey in the sport has not been an easy one. She had a fantastic junior career and a stellar first year as a senior but after that, it has all been about struggles and injuries for her. Who can forget her heartbreaking tears after she found out she was not going to be part of USA’s 2012 Olympic team after the Olympic trials? She was clearly devastated after realizing that her life long dream wasn’t going to come true but even after this disappointment she did not give up. Instead, she chose to fight in order to achieve her goals. She took the tough decision to move away from her family and leave the gym and the coaches who had been with her since her first steps in the sport in order to train at GAGE. This is a gym that has produced multiple national team members, as well as world team members and Olympians in the past, and Vega felt that this is where she needed to be in order to be the best gymnast she could possibly be and she was brave enough to leave everything behind in order to train there. However, dedication, courage, hard work and determination are not always enough to get you where you want. Luck plays an important role too and in Sabrina’s case, luck wasn’t on her side. She was enjoying training with teammates for the first time in her career and she was working hard to upgrade her routines on all the events but she was never able to actually show those new elements at competition for the next two years because she was always injured. Every time it looked like she had taken care of her health issue and she had recovered from her surgeries, an other problem would appear to slow down her progress. After fighting through injuries for about two years, Vega was finally healthy enough to return to the training camp at the end of 2014. Gymnastics fans from all over the world were absolutely excited to see her return but the celebration didn’t last long since Sabrina needed to have an other shoulder surgery a couple of months later. She continued to fight after that and she finally returned to competition at this year’s US Secret Classic, where she performed what it turned out to be the last routines of her elite career. Her skill level was certainly impressive for someone who had recently had surgery but unfortunately, it was not impressive enough for a team as deep as USA. Despite the problems she had during the last couple of years, Vega still had a career that most athletes would kill for. She got to travel all around the world representing USA, she got to win several national and international medals for her country and she got to become a world champion. There were definitely some rough moments during her career (but hey, there are moments like that for every single elite athlete) but she certainly has so many things to be extremely proud of.
I first watched her performing on floor at the 2010 pacific rim championships and I was immediately in love. She was a breath of fresh air in team that was comprised by athletes who were renowned for their talent and skill level but not for their artistry. While most of her junior teammates were still trying to find the style that suited them best, Sabrina already had a poise and an elegance that even the best gymnasts in the world would envy. She felt the music, her body flowed from one movement to the next and she was not afraid to show off to the crowd. To this day, I still go back to watch this routine and I consider it one of the best choreographed and most well performed exercises of this quad.
As a junior, she was artistic, she was expressive and she was unique. She had beautiful lines and toe point and her leaps were absolutely beautiful. I particularly loved the gorgeous beam mount she performed at the 2008 nationals, where she finished in the top 10 at floor and beam. This was the year she qualified elite and made it to her first national team at the age of 13.
She really started to blossom in 2009, where she became the national champion on floor and the national bronze medalist on balance beam and got several international assignments. She earned individual medals and helped her team win gold medals at some of the most prestigious junior competitions in the world, like the International Gymnix and the junior Pan-American championships. She had both the difficulty and the artistry. She could tumble and she could dance, she could swing bars and stay on the beam and it seemed like she had everything it took to be among the best juniors in the worlds.
She continued to improve in 2010, where she became the pacific rim championships silver medalist on beam and the Pan-American champion on the same event. She also won a silver All Around medal at the Pan-American championships and a silver medal on floor at the national championships. After all this success, it was clear that Vega was one of the country’s best All Arounder, balance beam and floor exercise workers, but she had never sacrificed her beautiful artistry in favor of her difficulty. In fact, she probably had the best choreography and performance quality in USA and nobody could dance quite as well as she did.
At 2011, it was finally time for her to compete as a senior and see where she stands among the best gymnasts in the world. She upgraded her routines, adding new elements like a double twisting yurchenko on vault, a piked tkatcev on bars and an 1.5 step out into a double tuck on floor and she got a fabulous new choreography. She started her senior career at the Jesolo Trophy, where she helped team USA win gold and won a silver medal on the uneven bars and a bronze on balance beam. After that, she placed third in the All Around and second on floor exercise at the secret Classic and 5th All Around at the national championships. She didn’t have a perfect year but she once again was one of the most artistic and beautiful athletes in the team and proved that she deserved a spot in the country’s world team. At the Tokyo world championships, she really did shine. She placed ninth All Around during qualifications and she handled the pressure brilliantly during team finals, where she delivered solid routines on bars and beam. She was competing at the biggest competition of her life, she was part of a young and inexperienced team that had lost its leader due to injury and according to the NBC commentators, she was in tears just moments before qualifications. And yet, she managed to go out there and deliver the best routines she could possibly have. After a fantastic competition, Sabrina became a world champion and she was part of the team that really started USA’s dominance.
2012 didn’t go her way. She wasn’t able to add major upgrades to her routines like her teammates did and she just didn’t have enough difficulty to compete against athletes like Wieber, Douglas and Raisman. However, that doesn’t mean that she wasn’t one of the most beautiful athletes to watch and that she didn’t produce some excellent performances. After all, she made it as far as the Olympic trials and this is a fantastic achievement by itself. Sabrina did not go to the Olympics, but her style and elegance made the sport a bit more beautiful and her smile made every competition she participated in a little bit brighter and I expect her to do the exact same thing at NCAA. Sabrina has a grace and a musicality that it’s hard to find and when she takes the floor she has a special sparkle that immediately catches everyone’s attention. She’s a dancer, a performer, a crowd pleaser and I seriously can’t wait to see her shining again. I don’t really follow NCAA gymnastics, but I am certainly going to follow her career and I wish her all the success in the world.
photos by John Cheng and Brian Freed
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