Nansy Damianova: I Would Do It All Over Again

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Nansy Damianova in one of her favorite Utah leotards
Photo Credit: Gym Shark Photo

Canadian gymnast Nansy Damianova just finished her four year gymnastics experience at the University of Utah. Born in France to Bulgarian parents, Damianova moved to Montreal, Canada at just 4 months old. Both of her parents were on the Bulgarian National Team for different sports - her mother in rowing and her father in taekwondo. They decided to enroll their daughter in gymnastics, hoping to find a safer option for the toddler who loved jumping on their bed.

Damianova's earliest memories of wanting to pursue elite gymnastics and possibly compete at the Olympics started after watching the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. "There were 2 girls from my club Gymnix, Julie Beaulieu and Emilie Fournier, that competed there and I was able to watch them on TV. [I] remember watching Khorkina." Damianova recalls another teammate, Amelie Plante, that competed in Athens 2004. "I just remember from that moment watching them and I really wanted to be like them and go to the Olympics and be on TV one day and that [lit] the fire. I didn’t know I had the potential but that moment definitely made me want to strive towards that. I guess once I made it to the National Team and I realized I'm getting slowly better, I think I can have the chance to eventually have my dream come true."

In 2007, Damianova helped Team Canada to a 14th place finish at the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. She contributed on both vault and floor exercise. Her dream did come true as Damianova was selected to represent Canada at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. "That year was just a crazy year. We had so many competitions. We traveled a lot just to qualify for the Olympics." And qualify to the Olympics, she did. Damianova competed in the all around in qualifications where she finished 38th and was 4th reserve to the all-around final.

"My coaches back home, they had a few Olympians go from our club to the Olympics. They just told me you have 4 minutes out there once you compete. No matter what happens, just enjoy every moment there because you've worked your whole life for 4 minutes pretty much. Definitely competing on floor, being there with my leotard having the Olympic rings on one side and the Canadian flag on the other one. The moment I really realized I was at the Olympics was the Closing Ceremony because I've watched it so many times on TV. Just being in the middle of the crowd, that was really breathtaking. I just remember everything like it was almost yesterday."

Damianova continued to compete elite in 2009 but things did not go as planned. "It’s just that after the Olympics, just going there was my biggest goal and suddenly when I came back home, I didn't have another goal and the Olympics were in another four years. It was such a fun event. So much hype. So much energy that when I went back to my old gym I didn't feel the same. I missed that energy. It was hard to train. I gained weight a little too after the Olympics so that changed all my movement, my technique. I realized that I didn't have energy to train as much. Things weren't really going as I was hoping. I was hoping to, right after 2009, go for World Cups and continue on with the National competitions but I got injured a little bit, my shoulder. It was time for me to try something new."

Different collegiate coaches had been in contact with Damianova's coach but her focus had always been on her elite career and making it to the Olympics. It wasn't until her post-Olympic experience that Damianova decided to look into NCAA gymnastics. "I wasn't ready to quit gymnastics because I loved it so much. I thought I needed something new so I contacted Utah in 2010, at the beginning of the year, asking them if they still had a spot available for me for that year and they said yes. I went to visit. I knew Gael Mackie so I was able to get a lot of reference from her just telling me how things are going there, [about] her experience. So, when I came to visit [Utah] I felt good about it. I saw myself training with the team. I liked the coaches. I liked the environment. So I didn't even bother looking at other schools after that because I just thought it was a good feel for me."

Nansy Damianova after receiving her Perfect 10 (in her other favorite Utah leo)

Nansy Damianova went on to have a successful NCAA career. During her freshman season, she scored season highs of 9.9 on vault and floor and was also the Regional Champion on those two events. As a sophomore, she scored a season high 9.925 on floor and was the Pac-12 runner up on floor exercise. In her junior year, Damianova scored a season high of 9.925 on not only floor exercise but also the uneven bars. She also qualified to the NCAA event finals for bars and floor where she placed 9th and 8th respectively. As a senior, Damianova had an excellent season. She helped her team to win their first Pac-12 Championship and was the Pac-12 floor champion. One of the biggest highlights of Damianova's final year competing as a Ute was her perfect 10 on floor exercise. You can watch clips of that routine and meet here.

"Greg [Marsden] kept telling us our senior night is not going to be perfect, it’s not going to be a fairy tale and that was true because vault went fine and then bars I made a mistake. Greg just reminded me to have fun on floor because he knows that whenever I try too hard, I end up not doing as well as I could. He came and talked to me before and at that point, in my head, I was like 'Well, it’s my last time at home. My family’s here. My coaches from home came to visit. So just have fun.' I ended up being in the right mindset… I ended the way I really wanted to end. I had tears at the end because it was the last time and I was just really happy that the team won and that I finally got a 10 which was something I've always wanted in my career."

Throughout both her elite and collegiate career, Damianova has often been praised for her artistry and presence. She mentions her ballet training as a major source of her elegance. "When I was much younger, my mom involved me in ballet for 2 or 3 years. She just knew that it was a good thing because she knew European gymnasts back home did a lot of ballet and had good posture, and being more elegant when you dance. I think all of it helps [a gymnast] become more graceful... The lady that choreographed my routines for the Olympics taught me how to interact with the crowd and look at the judges and not just dance and look at the floor. She works for Cirque du Soleil but she was also a coach in my club before. She definitely taught me how to move differently."

Currently, Damianova is at Utah doing an internship with the marketing department which she enjoys as it keeps her actively involved in sports. "Whatever marketing promotions we have for sports, I’m helping out with that – for example, choosing pictures for our gymnastics posters. I’m finishing up school and I’ll be graduating in May and I’ll have to figure out what I do afterwards but, for now, I go to gym pretty much every week. I go jump on the trampoline and things like that. I try to keep my gymnastics shape to an extent because I’m considering trying out for Cirque du Soleil either next year or the following year after."

Since Damianova has been around the gym, she's had some time to see the new freshman and how they fit into the 2014-2015 Utah team. "I met the new freshman and I think they look classic, they look amazing. They're all healthy and that’s really fun to have. I think that they're going to replace the 4 seniors that left really well. I think they have as good of a chance as we’ve had to win another Pac 12 and be very competitive."

When asked what she'll remember most of her career at Utah, Damianova mentions four things: winning Pac-12s, building bonds with her teammates for the last 4 years, performing at home in the Hunstman arena, and her Perfect 10 on floor. "I had a great experience at The U and it’s definitely one of the best decisions I've made. Just coming there, I was a little worried because, you know, I was never away from home for more than a couple of weeks but the fans are so so nice and appreciative of us that it really made me feel like I was at home when I was here. That really helped a lot. I definitely thank all of our fans because most of the memories that I have are because of them too."

"The coaches – just having to deal with me [laughs] because I was pretty hard headed towards the beginning, so just being really patient with me. And I have a really great relationship with them right now. So I’m just happy about the whole experience and really thank them for making me a part of it and giving me a scholarship. It’s definitely something, if I could relive it again, I would. Before leaving for summer back home, I had that dream where NCAA rules changed and you had a fifth year and I told Greg [laughs] and he was just laughing because he knows that I love it, I had a great time. If I could go back, I would do it all over again because it was so much fun."

Thank you, Nansy, so much for the interview and we wish you the best of luck in the future!