Driven by joy, Canada’s Ana Padurariu continues her quest for Paris

Driven by joy, Canada’s Ana Padurariu continues her quest for Paris

By Megan Roth

In November of 2023, Ana Padurariu, the 2018 World Beam Silver Medalist, who represents Canada internationally and UCLA in the NCAA announced she would be taking the 2024 NCAA season off in order to train for the 2024 Paris Olympics. After two successful World Championships in 2018 and 2019, injuries kept Padurariu from competing in Tokyo, what she once thought was her only chance at becoming an Olympian. Now after competing two seasons in college, Padurariu has her sights on Paris. 

Inside Gymnastics caught up with Padurariu in early February to learn what led her to this decision, what the transition has been like, and what some of her routines will look like!

Padurariu first considered coming back to Elite the summer after her freshman year of college, what she called one of the lowest points in her gymnastics career. She had surgery on one foot and injections in the other and wasn’t sure if she’d be able to do gymnastics again. After taking two months off of the sport, she was barely able to do a cast handstand on bars, but knew in the back of her head that she wanted to push to the highest level she could, inspiring her Elite dream.

Through her sophomore year, she was casually training Elite skills on the side of her NCAA routines, but recovering from her ankle surgery meant that she didn’t train much beam at all in the preseason. It wasn’t until 2023 Canadian Nationals in May, her return to Elite competition, where Padurariu competed a demo routine on beam that she thought to herself, “you know what, I might actually have a shot at this whole thing.”

The summer after the 2023 NCAA season is when Padurariu decided she would be stepping away from NCAA for the 2024 season. 

“I was just at home and I’d been thinking about the decision for a long time,” Padurariu said. “Just seeing how much I had to work for my sophomore college season, in my head, it was not ideal to do both at the same time if I wanted to thrive in Elite. Because this might be my last shot at the Olympics, while I still have time to go back to college and finish out those dreams as well, I really wanted to leave this year with no regrets and make sure I put my whole focus on the one thing I want at the moment.”

Right now, Padurariu is taking this year one step at a time. “I’m not really putting any pressure on myself,” Padurariu said. “I’m just enjoying the process because as much as I have these big goals, I want to make sure I’m happy along the way and that this year, I’m focused on doing gymnastics just for me and for my pure joy of it.”

Since the start of 2024, Padurariu has been back home, training at her home gym. Additionally, she’s taking community college classes that will transfer for credit at UCLA to stay on track to graduate in the spring or summer of 2025. 

Adjusting to the different training environment has been hard for her, especially because the girls she’s now surrounded by are all younger than her.  “I think one of the biggest things I miss about UCLA is just training with girls my age and being able to goof around with them and not be in as much of a serious environment,” she said. “Walking into the gym everyday at UCLA is just pure joy with dancing and singing. People just love gymnastics there.” 

She’s enjoyed bringing the UCLA atmosphere into her training in Canada too. “This time in my Elite journey, it’s not as serious as it was previously,” Padurariu said. “I’m able to bring as much energy and fun as I want without any repercussions.”

Now that she’s competed NCAA gymnastics for two seasons, Padurariu has more trust in her years of training. During her freshman season, it was difficult for her to understand that she could compete well with few hours of training each week. “Honestly, I really needed that period of growth to realize that I don’t need to do as many hours of gymnastics every day to be good. That’s when I really learned the art of visualization and that taking care of my body and my mind is more important for my gymnastics than repetitions after repetitions,” Padurariu said. She’s currently training more hours than she was in NCAA, but limits time in the gym to four hours a day plus weight training on the side. 

NCAA has also helped her consistency and ability to stay in the zone while competing. “NCAA helped me a lot with finding cues,” Padurariu said. “In the environment of competing where it’s so loud, you have to learn how to tune everything out. That’s where I had to learn how to find the cue for everything. Finding my cues and being able to be in the zone everytime I do my routine, I think that has helped my consistency a lot. It also helped my consistency in the fact that we went to different places almost every week, so I had to get used to different visuals, different audiences, and different things that were out of my control.”

Now that her training is much more independent than it was at UCLA, Padurariu has had to find motivation within herself to keep working everyday. “The environment at UCLA really brought out my energy every day even if I didn’t want to train,” Padurariu said. “Now that I really don’t have all of those outside sources, I have to find the energy and motivation within myself. I have to find my strength and my ‘why’ every single day, which is a different challenge.” 

Watching NCAA this season while being removed from it has been difficult for Padurariu. “One of the first UCLA meets that I was watching, I was just sitting on my couch, crying,” she said. “I was really happy for them, but I was kind of missing the whole atmosphere and being with that whole team and the coaches, just experiencing the thrill of it all. I am really happy with my decision, but it was kind of a reality check for me.” Now, while she’s not competing in the NCAA, Padurariu has enjoyed following it more closely. “I feel like I love learning from people,” Padurariu said. “I’m a big visual learner, so Oklahoma is one of the best and I love watching them just to watch their technique and what they do right in their skills to be able to complete it successfully every single time.”

In terms of events, Padurariu is focusing on bars and beam. “In the summer I tried training some more floor and vault but it kind of compromised my ankle health to where I couldn’t do much beam for a month at one point,” Padurariu said. “When that happened, I realized I’d rather be great on beam, which is my strength and be able to get a good bar routine down rather than try to push and potentially not be healthy or not have the most difficulty on beam because of it.”

On beam, Padurariu is working a side aerial to layout stepout series and a double pike dismount. After competing at Canadian Nationals in 2023, getting the double pike back was a big goal. “I knew the double pike as a dismount would improve my difficulty a lot and just the overall composition of my routine, ” Padurariu said. “I love just having something to look forward to and to work towards all of the time. I don’t like being stagnant. Just the consistency of working it in the past few months and just seeing it now, it was really exciting to finally put in on competition landing for the first time successfully.” 

Adjusting bars back to an Elite difficulty has been the most difficult. “Bars doesn’t come as easily to me as beam does. It’s hard getting back the routines and the endurance for it,” Paduradiu said. “I haven’t done more than a three skill bar routine for the past three years. Needing to get back to 8 skills plus all of the handstands and giants in between has been a process.” Previously, Padurariu competed a bar routine with a lot of in-bars, a skill she hasn’t gotten back consistently yet. She hopes to get her bar routine to a similar composition she had in the 2017-2021 quad, but from toe-ons instead of in-bars. “I want to add in a Church to Pak,” Padurariu said. “It’s a great thrill to do any sort of Tkatchev in connection to a Pak, just being able to do that successfully always gave me great joy, so I’m hoping to get that back.”

Looking towards the rest of the Olympic year, Padurariu is excited to see where it will take her. She made her competitive return to an Elite meet at Elite Canada February 18-20 and scored a 12.600 on beam, the highest score of her session. Unfortunately, she injured her foot warming up for the second day of competition. It will be a couple week recovery process, she said, but she’s still focused on the year ahead and hopefully getting the opportunity to compete for Canada in Paris.

When thinking about all she’s been through this year and in her career, she’d like to thank all of her coaches and her support systems at home and at UCLA. “Without their knowledge and support I wouldn’t be at this point in my gymnastics career, and it’s important for me that they know that,” Padurariu said. “The great part about being on this journey is that I get to experience all the falls and victories with them.”

Photos by Lloyd Smith and Grace Chiu for Inside Gymnastics

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