Born in Paris to Bulgarian parents, raised in Quebec and now competing for the University of Utah, 2008 Canadian Olympian Nansy Damianova is a truly international gymnast who is enjoying the latest phase of her career as a student-athlete.
Nancy Damianova (Canada/University of Utah)
Damianova's parents, Titomir Damianov and Sophia Tsvetkova, competed for the Bulgarian national team in taekwondo and rowing, respectively. She was born March 30, 1991, in Paris, where her parents had temporarily resided after leaving Bulgaria. When the family moved to Quebec, Damianova began training at the Gymnix club in Montreal. She was coached by Katerine Dussault, Francine Bouffard and Pierre Privé during her international career.
In 2007 Damianova was a member of Canada's 14th-place team at the world championships in Stuttgart, finished fifth on floor exercise at the World Cup of Shanghai, and finished eighth on vault and floor exercise at the Glasgow Grand Prix.
In 2008 Damianova was one of two Canadian female gymnasts to compete at the Olympic Games in Beijing, where her 38th-place all-around ranking in qualifications earned her the position as fourth alternate to the all-around final. Also in 2008 Damianova won bronze medals on vault and floor exercise at the World Cup of Maribor, Slovenia, and finished sixth on vault and floor exercise at the World Cup of Tianjin, China.
Damianova, who speaks Bulgarian, French and English, is thriving in the classroom and gym at the University of Utah. A junior majoring in Communications, she made the Dean's List and Athletic Director's Honor Roll in her freshman and sophomore years. Damianova helped the Utah team place fifth at the NCAA Championships in 2011 and 2012. She tied for first place on vault and floor exercise at the 2011 NCAA Regional Championships, and finished second on floor exercise at the 2012 Pacific 12 Conference Championships.
IG spoke with Damianova in Los Angeles at the conclusion of the Jan. 12 meet between UCLA and the University of Utah.
IG: What gives you the motivation to continue doing gymnastics, after such a long career?
Damianova (University of Utah) competing against UCLA
ND: It's always really fun to perform out there, and after training a while, going out and presenting what you have. Having fun with the crowd keeps me motivated. Also, in gymnastics, there is always something more that you can do, and something better. The fact that I can't really see myself without gymnastics makes me continue, as well as having fun with the whole team.
IG: You seem fitter than ever. How have you been able to improve your fitness level since you began college?
ND: The conditioning in the NCAA is a lot different from what I did back home, and probably the fact that I don't do as many hard skills as I used to do means I do more conditioning. We do a lot of conditioning, and I think that's what keeps everyone on our team pretty fit. I think I probably have a little bit in my genetics. My parents weren't very big, either, so I would guess it's a little bit of everything.
IG: How did you get into gymnastics, versus your parents encouraging you to try their sports?
ND: Apparently when I was very young, about 2 years old, I used to jump a lot on their bed, and my mom told me they didn't want me to break their bed. My parents used to train together, and at the sport center where they trained they saw there was a trampoline and everything, and that was Gymnix. They decided to put me there, in those kindergarten-type gymnastics classes. So since I was put there I've always wanted to continue. My parents never forced me to continue or anything. It was more my will. I just really loved the sport. I fell in love with it and continued.
IG: What circumstances brought your family from Bulgaria to France to Canada?
ND: It mixes people up sometimes! It's funny. When my parents were in Bulgaria, it was pretty communistic, so I think they wanted to leave the country for a better opportunity, so they went to France. They lived there for about two years, which is when I was born. After that we went to Quebec. It just happened that my parents wanted to live in France first, and then they saw that it wasn't the country where they wanted to spend their lives. So that's how I got born there!
IG: Looking back on 2012, what were your impressions of the (fifth-place) Canadian team at the Olympics in London?
ND: I think they really did an incredible job. We didn't really have a national coach for a long time, and I think that, overall, the girls were able to get a really high level of skills like most of the countries had. I was really impressed and really happy that they were able to do so well, and be so stable with hard skills that were more competitive to the FIG (International Gymnastics Federation) level. It was really nice to see them, because I used to compete with some of them, and it was great to see how some of them kept evolving and made their dreams come true. It was really great to watch.
Damianova at the 2007 Worlds in Stuttgart
IG: You were part of the legacy that helped lead to the success of the 2012 team, so what do you think it will take for Canada to sustain that level of success?
ND: I have been out of the Canadian team for a long time, so I'm not sure how everything is run, but they've definitely been doing a great job so far. I would say they should keep that up and stay healthy and have fun, because obviously they have what it takes. They just have to have fun and believe in themselves. It seems to be working so far. It's hard for me to say what they should be doing, but I think they are on the right track.
IG: Was the fact that you came from French-speaking Canada ever a problem for you in getting along with the gymnasts from English-speaking Canada?
ND: Not at all. It's more history that made it like that, but whenever we competed I remember bonding. No matter what, it never made any cold issues between the gymnasts from French- and English-speaking Canada. It was just with my accent, because at first I had a hard time communicating with everyone. But what's great is that you learn about the other side of Canada. I have friends from every province, and I'm really good friends with (2004 Olympian and former Utah gymnast) Gael Mackie and her sister (2009 and 2010 Worlds competitor) Charlotte Mackie, who live on the west coast, so (the language and cultural difference) doesn't matter.
IG: What do you plan to do with your Communications major?
ND: That's the hard part. I don't have a job that I want in mind, like, “OK, I want to be in marketing” or something. I'm doing Communications because there is a lot of options open with that major. I've been taking a lot of business classes, so I'm trying to get a Business minor, as well. I have a little more to do, but to be honest, I'm not too sure, and that makes me kind of nervous sometimes. I don't really know exactly what I want.
IG: So will you finish university in four years or perhaps take more time?
ND: For now, I think I could finish in four years if I wanted, but I'd have to take five classes each semester, and that has been hard. I've been doing that pretty much every year but it gets harder. I could do it, but I think I might take it a little slower, and take a half-semester to concentrate on every class rather than rushing through. But we'll see. I'm trying to see about that with academic advisors (at Utah), as well.
IG: Your performances have always been so stylish and artistic. How much thought are you giving to performing in something like Cirque du Soleil after you finish with gymnastics?
ND: I thought about it a while ago, and I don't really think so. I've been away from home for a very long time, so I think it would be nice to have a few years to relax and be at the same place. But we never know!
IG: Then how involved in gymnastics do you intend to stay?
ND: Right now I'm coaching a little bit. At the university we have a program for little kids on Wednesdays. There are days when I think I'd like to continue gymnastics after college, but at the same time I have to see how my body is, and how school is going, and the opportunity I would get with school. But I definitely think about either choreographing or helping (coach) at Gymnix. I think I will always have some kind of involvement with gymnastics, because I've loved it.