Rebeca Andrade: I learned a lot about perseverance

After rehabbing a third ACL injury and Olympic postponement, the Rio 2016 Olympian finally gets her chance at a Tokyo ticket in artistic gymnastics.

By Scott Bregman
Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Sometimes, the third time isn’t the charm.

The 2016 artistic gymnastics Olympian Rebeca Andrade learned that the hard way in June 2019 when she suffered her third ACL tear while competing at the Brazilian Championships.

“I've overcome a lot of things and each time I overcame something tough, I was more determined to come back, I wanted to win even more,” Andrade told Olympic Channel in October 2019. “And I believe it won't be different.”

That injury kept her out of the 2019 World Championships in what ended up being the first of many blows to a team that a year earlier had challenged for the bronze medal.

The Brazilian had the seventh best score in the all-around in the 2019 season ahead of the Worlds, according to TheGymter.net. Things got quickly worse for the team as veteran Jade Barbosa went down with an injury in competition at the worlds, leaving them in dire straits.

They ultimately finished 14th and missed out on qualifying a full team to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, now scheduled for July 2021. Only Flavia Saraiva earned a spot at the Games via those worlds.

“Not being able to help my team,” said Andrade at the time. “To be watching and not being able to compete, not doing what I was born to do is really hard.

For Andrade, her road to the Olympics starts and ends this week at the Pan Am Championships, set to begin Thursday (4 June) in Rio.

She must finish in the top two among eligible athletes in the all-around Friday (5 June) in order to punch her ticket.

'Now, everything is fine.' - Brazil's Andrade

“I think [it would mean] everything. It's something that a high-performance athlete desires and longs for, something that she wants to conquer in any possible way,” Andrade said of a return trip to the Olympics. “So, it's very important. I really want this and I'm training a lot for it.”

She knew what to expect rehabbing her third major knee injury, making the arduous process of returning to high level gymnastics slightly easier.

“The hardest part is when you have to go back practicing because you end up feeling a little pain and more. Since it was the third time this happened, I had a bit more body awareness and I also knew a little more about the process of this rehabilitation,” she explained. “So, it wasn't so heavy, so difficult for me to go back to doing things. Now, everything is fine.”

Andrade was well on her way to recovery last March when she competed for the first time since the injury at the Baku World Cup. That competition was called off, due to COVID concerns, after the qualifying round where Andrade placed third on the uneven bars (14.233) and second on balance beam (13.800).

Then, the world shut down. Something that worked in her favour, Andrade says. The extra year gave her a moment to step back and assess what she needed to do.

Andrade keeping the faith

Now despite the long layoff, she feels ready to compete.

“I thought I would be anxious, and I think anxiety ends up affecting the preparation. But it wasn't a problem for me,” Andrade said. “I feel OK because - since I had more time to train and prepare - this is also helpful, as you feel stronger mentally and more prepared physically.”

Andrade says she’s worked with a psychologist on mental rehearsal, visualizing performing her elements under the immense pressure of Olympic qualification. But part of that mental strength comes also from having learned about herself during the pandemic.

“I think the first thing [I learned] doesn't have a lot to do with gymnastics, but it's about talking to the people you love and showing it to them, because you don't know if you're going to be here tomorrow,” said the 22-year-old. “I think [I learned] a lot about perseverance, having faith that you are capable, that we are living a very difficult time where you do not know what to hope for.

“At the same time, you have the faith that everything is going to be alright,” Andrade continued. “I think this is useful for sport because in gymnastics you don't know what's going to happen until you do it. So, you have to have faith that everything's gonna be alright.”

It’s faith she’ll need this week in her home country. Andrade recognises that competition will be fierce, even among her teammates, and with only one athlete per country allowed to earn a spot through the Pan American Gymnastics Championships, she’ll need to be at the top of her game.

“There are three other girls that have as much potential as I have, but it's something I don't want to give up,” said Andrade. “You know if you're not properly training because you know what you want to achieve. You know what your goal is. So, it's extremely important to me. I'm going to be really happy if I manage to get that spot and I hope I shine at the Olympics, God willing.”