Nicknamed the Phoenix, Vanessa Ferrari Rises Again

By Gina Pongetti Angeletti

Using the fitting and emotional, “Time to Say Goodbye” by Andrea Bocceli as her floor routine music in Tokyo, Italy’s Vanessa Ferrari is leaving the sport better than she started – a career that began when All-Around Champion Sunisa Lee was just three years-old.  

Ferrari qualified first into the floor final which will take place Monday and is looking to add to her five World Championships medals (ranging from 2006-2013) with an Olympic medal and new history. She is only one of 54 female Artistic Gymnastics Olympians from Italy, ever. A small enough group that the prestige is quite astonishing! 

After two previous attempts for the medal stand – fourth in London in 2012 and Rio in 2016, Ferrari, the 2006 World All-Around Champion, is ready to change that tomorrow in Tokyo when she competes in Floor Final.

In the Team Final, the Italian women were hovering in the bronze medal position with Great Britain. In the end, Italy finished less than a half of a point (0.458) off the podium. But Ferrari’s Olympics are far from over. Italy has not won a team medal since 1928 in Amsterdam, where they captured silver. And, they have never medaled on floor exercise (or balance beam, uneven bars or vault). This is her chance for redemption.

The Lioness

Ferrari ignites power, passion and elegance on floor. At only 4’9’ tall, she makes quite an impact.  She loves performing. She loves the art of gymnastics as much as the sport aspect. She thrives on the volume of the crowds, the shaking of the stadium in eruption, the fans and the cheers. 

“I’m called ‘The Lioness’ because I’m hungry for wins and they see me determined to reach my dream,” she told Olympics.com

How does she bring this? The peer of her eyes. The extremes of body shaping and rib motions. Electrifying energy all the way down to her fingertips. On home soil, she is already a legend. As the most decorated Italian gymnast, she is an idol to many young Italian gymnasts just waiting to try to fill her shoes.

See the routine that won Vanessa the All-Around World Championship in 2006 below!

Age is Just a Number

At 30 years-old and competing in her fourth Olympics, Ferrari proves that age is just a number. In the most recent buzz around the increasing success paralleled with increasing age and experience in the sport (cue Oksana Chusovitina, Chellsie Memmel), she is a bona fide example. 

“I don’t think there’s a secret to remaining competitive for so long. I only believe that daily hard work can lead you to success,” she said.

In 2004, she made her first mark at Europeans as a Junior. In 2006, she finally aged up to Senior, marking the start of her 15-year career.

Plagued with ups and downs – she has battled achilles issues (2009), debilitating fatigue from mono (2015), achilles surgery (2016 post Olympics), another achilles tear (Floor, 2017 Worlds, Montreal), and ankle surgery (2019) – Ferrari has pressed on, sharing her determination and inspiring the world. 

Now, I have a difficult time ahead of me, that of yet another recovery, that I will have to follow,” she told the Italian Gymnastics Federation after her final procedure. “I know that the whole Italian gymnastics’ world is standing by me and I’m very pleased by that. I can only promise that I will do my best to come back at high levels.”

Ever Evolving, Yet Timeless

She has also had the nickname of the ‘phoenix’ because of her ability to constantly evolve, and return from injuries that would end a career for many. Though Ferrari was doubtful of the long journey ahead, and even reiterated that here during interviews in Tokyo. 

“For me, it is most important to be here because I started the four years (Olympiad), which became five years (due to COVID-19), with my problem in Montreal. I didn’t think in Montreal that I could come back to competition to get my individual place (for Tokyo 2020).”

Though an amazing accomplishment, competing for the four-woman team was a dream that remained, Ferrari  solidified her place for the 2020 Olympics by traveling across the world for the individual World Cup Series. In the end, she was named to the team to replace Giorgia Villa, who was injured. 

And that brings us to Tokyo. 

With a 5.9 Difficulty (D) score and an Execution (E) score of 8.266 in qualifying, Ferrari leads the way into Monday’s Floor Finals.

As we revisit her choice of music for the Olympic Games, I will leave you with this: the translation from Italian to English, quite literally, is that it is time to say goodbye. But when delving deeper, its connotation adds a twist. 

Time to say goodbye

To countries I never saw and shared with you

Now, yes, I shall see them, I’ll go with you

Go on ships across seas, which I know, don’t exist anymore

Horizons are never far, would I have to find them alone

Without true light of my own with you

It’s time to say goodbye. 

Vanessa, may you travel the world for you, and not for sport, knowing the impact that you have made. You have made it across the seas with the love of Italy and the sport of gymnastics on your shoulders. Thank you for sharing your life with us. 

Ciao, Bella!

Journey back to the routine that qualified to Vanessa to Tokyo below!

Photos By Ricardo Bufolin and Grace Chiu for Inside Gymnastics

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