Almost a year after suffering a torn ACL, former U.S. national vault champion Eddie Penev told IG his forced hiatus has given him a renewed passion and appreciation for the sport of gymnastics. Pictured: Penev at the 2014 Anadia World Challenge Cup in Portugal, where he won two gold medals.
Almost a year after suffering a torn ACL, former U.S. national vault champion Eddie Penev told IG his forced hiatus has given him a renewed passion and appreciation for the sport of gymnastics.
Penev competes Friday on the first of two days of men's competition at the P&G (U.S.) Gymnastics Championships in Indianapolis. He plans to compete all-around for the second time since knee injury — his first major injury in the sport — suffered on vault last August at the 2014 Pan American Championships in Mississauga, Ont., Canada. After surgery and rehab, he made his comeback at the U.S. men's national qualifier last month in Colorado Springs, where he won vault and finished seventh all-around. Additionally, he placed fifth on pommel horse with a solid 14.400 (a significant improvement over his results at the previous two P&G championships, where he averaged 12.75 over the four routines).
Penev was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, where both his parents had been national team members in artistic gymnastics. He moved to New York at a young age and grew up at his parent's gym, training under fellow Bulgarian Ivo Grahovski. Penev represented his native country several times at the world championships, making floor exercise finals at the 2010 Worlds. The next year he switched representation to the United States.
He now trains under coach Vitaly Marinitch at the U.S. Olympic Team Training Center in Colorado Springs, where he moved earlier this year after five years training at Stanford University in California. During his four seasons competing for Stanford, Penev won three national titles and became a nine-time All-American. In 2013, he won the the prestigious Nissen-Emery Award, presented annually to the nation's top senior male gymnast for integrity and excellence in both athletics and academics.
Prior to his injury, Penev had one of his most successful seasons in 2014, winning both floor exercise and vault at the Anadia World Challenge Cup in Portugal and the floor silver and vault bronze at the P&G Championships.
Penev, who celebrates his 25th birthday on Sunday, spoke with IG about his injury and comeback, and how being sidelined has shaped his attitude on the sport.
IG: You gave an interview this week and mentioned the new appreciation you feel for gymnastics, now that you're back after time off. Can you expand on this? Growing up in the gym, with both of your parents gymnasts, do you think you just felt like gymnastics was a fact of life for you?
Penev on parallel bars for Stanford University, where he competed from 2010-2013
EP: In many ways I do consider gymnastics as a "fact of my life" but now I have a new appreciation for it. I think that prior to my injury, I kind of took it for granted a little bit.... in the sense that I always assumed I would be able to train with minimal setbacks and only a few bumps and bruises. This time it was not like that, and I had to work harder than I ever have to get back to what I loved to do and back to what defines a huge part of me.
IG: Your recovery has to be one of the quickest comebacks from a torn ACL the sport of gymnastics has ever seen. Do you think sports medicine has improved, or is there something special that helped you come back so soon?
EP: Well, that's a two-part answer. Part of it was my drive, which had never been tested to that extent before. I've never wanted something as bad as this comeback simply because of my love for the sport and I refused to let this stop me. To add even more fuel to the fire I was taken off the National Team at Winter Cup (in February), and that's when I feel like I took it to the next level. The other huge part of this comeback was the medical staff at the Olympic Training Center. They have supported me 100 percent from day one, because they could see how much I wanted to be in physical therapy, and not only be there, but be the best at it. They have done countless extra hours with me and a lot of one-on-one time. I've truly built a relationship with sports medicine and I cannot thank them enough for all they've done for me.
IG: You've not only made a full comeback, you've managed to add upgrades...?
EP: Yes! I have been able to upgrade! In fact, I've upgraded on every event (minus vault). In the first few months of my injury when I couldn't do floor or vault I really pushed my weaker events and perhaps more importantly my overall strength/fitness. I would say that my biggest strides forward have come on pommel horse. I went back to the basics and really hammered them down and the results have been really noticeable. I truly believe that I have a lot to offer team USA on this event in particular as we move forward. I've also also cleaned up and added several tenths of difficulty to rings, p-bars and high bar.
IG: What is it like living at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, and training with Vitaly Marinitch?
EP: I love living at the OTC. I truly believe it offers the optimal training environment for elite-level athletics. I mean you have anything you could ever need at your disposal, and that helps to eliminate unnecessary distractions/worries that take away from your training. On top of that we have an outstanding group of guys training at the OTC right now so that really pushes me to be the best gymnast that I can be. As for Vitaly, he is a world-class coach and I feel incredibly fortunate to work with him. He is a master planner who knows how to get his athletes to peak when they need to. He is also great at tailoring our gymnastics and training to fit us as individuals, which is critical for gymnastics at this level.
IG: When you first got injured, did you expect to be back competing in less than a year, much less doing all-around?
EP: Initially I did not know how soon I'd be back, but I knew how badly I wanted it, so when the doctors said nine to 12 months, I said seven to eight months. I sat down with the trainers and basically asked them what I needed to do to have the best and most effective recovery. I took every little thing they said to me to heart and I tried to perfect it like I do in gymnastics. I started to do serious tumbling right around six months and I couldn't believe it. It was the greatest feeling, and I had never felt a greater sense of accomplishment. Now, I can look back on this comeback and honestly say I did absolutely everything I could to get back to doing what I love.
IG: Your birthday is Sunday, the final day of competition in Indianapolis. What would made a great birthday present for you?
EP: The best birthday gift would simply be to finish out the competition happy and healthy. I just want to hit my routines and capitalize on my newfound appreciation for the sport. The rest is irrelevant – this is for me.
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