Aly Raisman once said "Simone [Biles is] just in her own league. Whoever gets second place, that's the real winner." That would make Canada's Ana Padurariu the "real winner" of the 2019 Stuttgart World Cup, as she finished second at the all-around competition behind Biles.
Stuttgart marked her first World Cup, and Padurariu wasn't expecting the silver medal.
"I was up against some tremendous competitors," she said. "We started on vault at the competition, and I’m pretty sure I was last or second last after that rotation, so at that point I thought that I really had nothing to lose. I competed the rest of my routines as good as I could, and enjoyed every moment of it."
She made up for her lack of difficulty on vault by hitting her remaining three routines, including a meet-high 14.333 on balance beam, for a total all-around score of 55.132 behind Biles and ahead of a few senior elite veterans, including Russia's Aliya Mustafina, who actually made her more nervous than the competition itself.
"Finishing second was quite a cherry on top to the whole experience, and I think talking to Simone and Aliya Mustafina sent more butterflies to my stomach than competing!" Padurariu said.
The Stuttgart World Cup was her most recent competition, and up next is the 2019 Canadian Championships where she has the potential to win her first national all-around title. Her first meet of the year was Elite Canada where she won gold in the all-around and on bars, beam, and floor. Many of the same competitors will be at the national championships, so it's likely she could contend for the national title.
However Padurariu has been going through a bit of a setback since Worlds ended last year. The reigning Elite Canada champion has grown about two inches, which has shifted her center of gravity, affecting her gymnastics. Her new height has impacted one event more than the others.
"Bars is the event it takes the most toll on," she said. "Especially my stoop skills since the timing has to be really precise, and every time my center of gravity changes (aka, I grow) then I have to readjust, and it just feels like a never-ending cycle, but I think it’ll be better soon."
Because she began to grow after Worlds, it was something she had to deal with at Elite Canada, but she had more time to get used to it and adjust before that meet. She was able to successfully compete and hit her routines. After Elite Canada, she felt adjusted and had no problems training for and competing at her next two competitions of the year, Gymnix and the Stuttgart World Cup.
Then in April, the Canadian National Team went to Tokyo for a training camp, and she felt her growth affecting her again. Padurariu said "it definitely hasn’t been the smoothest road preparing" for the Canadian Championships, but she's not letting her taller stature get in the way of her gymnastics and her mindset.
Her coach, Olympian Elena Davydova, said "Ana is staying positive, and that is the most important for us at this time."
Canadian Championships is a major meet, but Padurariu hopes it's preparation for bigger things to come.
"This competition will mostly be another opportunity to practice my routines under pressure to aid with any upcoming international competitions," she said. "My main goal is to just go out there and perform my routines just as calm and confident as in training."
At last year's Canadian Championships, she competed on only one event, but medaled, earning a silver on bars. She was recovering from at ankle injury at the time but later competed two events at the 2018 Pan American Championships. Then she was named to the Canadian World Championship squad, where she helped Team Canada to its highest World team finish at fourth place in addition to winning a silver medal on beam.
Her first year as a senior had highs and lows but taught her a lot, which she'll be able to use at Canadian Championships and moving forward.
"I was really able to discover how much I was capable of leading up to Worlds," Padurariu said. "The one thing I’m trying to not do with that incredible Worlds experience is to put more pressure on myself, and treat each competition the same and to just have fun at each one."
So Padurariu is trying to take one step at a time, especially because she feels like everything has been moving so fast ever since last year’s Worlds, so it’s really been a one-step-at-a-time type of year.
"My goal for the rest of this year is to train hard to keep routines really consistent in competition, which will hopefully lead me to a place on Pan [American] Games and the World Championships team," she said.
The 2019 Pan American Games will be held in Lima, Peru, in July and August while the 2019 World Championships will be in Stuttgart, Germany, in October. There isn't another big meet in between the Canadian Championships and Pan American Games or in between Pan American Games and World Championships. So if Padurariu, who won the first major national competition of the year, achieves her goal of consistency and calm and confident routines at Canadian Championships, there's a good chance she'll be headed to Stuttgart again this fall.