After a unsuccessful bid for an Olympic team spot at this summer’s U.S. Olympic Trials, Eddie Penev could have hung up his grips and said farewell to the sport of gymnastics. But after mounting an impressive comeback from a devastating 2014 ACL injury, the 26 year old isn’t quite done.
Instead, the 2013 Nissen Emery Award (gymnastics’ version of the Heisman Trophy) winner is showing off difficult skills on Instagram, traveling to Germany to compete in professional competitions and traveling the East Coast with the final leg of the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions.
“My goal is the world championships next year in Montreal,” said Penev via email last week on his way back from competing for KTT Heilbronn in Germany’s Bundesliga for the second year. “It’s a great opportunity for me because it’s an ‘individual worlds,’ meaning there’s no team competition and so they will most likely send guys who have the best medal chances on their best events.”
With one of the most difficult floor exercises in the U.S., Penev has every right to have his eyes set on one of the Worlds spots for that apparatus. He also is an international contender on vault, making next fall’s Worlds setup ideal to continue his competitive career for. Watching the recent Olympics showed him he definitely has the goods.
“Looking at the results from the games I can see that I had great medal chances on floor in particular – even gold medal chances by the looks of it and the scores I’ve gotten over the years in international competitions,” said Penev.
Though he didn’t get a spot on the Olympic team, Penev was proud of what he achieved. He finished second in floor exercise and seventh on vault at Trials. “Olympic Trials was an amazing experience that I will certainly remember and cherish for the rest of my life,” he wrote. “And although it didn’t end the way I would’ve hoped it would, I was thrilled and honored to be a part of it.
“We have so many talented athletes in our country and that’s a good problem to have and it unfortunately means that great gymnasts will have to be left off the team. I made tremendous improvements since my knee injury (largely due to my coaches) and I couldn’t be happier with what I did. I just didn’t fit the team they wanted to send.”
But in an individual Worlds year, he might be a perfect fit. He has represented his birth country of Bulgaria at the 2007, 2010 and 2011 World Championships, but not the U.S., and this could be the season that it finally happens. To achieve that goal, Penev will continue training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs, where he moved after graduating from Stanford University. The OTC is in the midst of the a shakeup, with national team head coach Vitaly Marinitch and national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika leaving, but the facilities and resources available there still make it the place to be.
“Nothing will change with my current training situation,” wrote Penev. “I will remain at the Olympic Training Center despite Vitaly’s resignation. While I’m very sad that he’s leaving us, I have absolutely everything I want/need at the OTC for high-level athletics. As I get older it’s so crucial that I stay on top of my physical therapy, nutrition, recovery, etc. and that is all there at my disposal.”
Another reason to stick around in Colorado Springs doesn’t involve gymnastics. “I’m also pursuing a few potential job opportunities in urban development, so when I’m done with my gymnastics career I’ll hopefully have something else lined up,” said Penev, who has a degree in architectural design. “I’m hoping to get an internship or part time work in the city of Colorado Springs in the planning department that I can fit into my schedule. It’s ambitious but I’m used to balancing school and gymnastics and I’m ready for that kind of life again.”
But before he gets back to Colorado and preparing for 2017, he will join members of the Olympic team and national teams and perform in the last set of dates on the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions. “It’s another one of the those possibly once-in-a-lifetime things and its a great way to celebrate four years of dedication to the sport,” said Penev.
That includes a date at the Blue Cross Arena in Penev’s hometown of Rochester, NY on November 3rd. The last time Penev performed with the tour, he was a little kid performing as part of a segment of the show that features young local gymnasts at every stop. That segment is still a part of the show, but now Penev is now one of the champions those youngsters are aspiring to be.
The tour is a fitting close to one Olympiad and the start of the next portion of Penev’s journey, wherever it may lead him.
“It’s crazy to think how it’s all come full circle and now I have the opportunity to be one of the guys that kids look up to the way I did all those years ago,” said Penev.
The Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions hits Eddie’s and my hometown of Rochester, NY tonight, November 3rd, at the Blue Cross Arena. The tour finishes up in Boston, MA on November 13th with two shows at the TD Garden. Learn more at kelloggstour.com.
You can read more of my gymnastics writing here.