This summer, Vladimir Vladev, owner and former head coach of Acrobatic Gymnastics of San Antonio, will be inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame. The acro discipline has a humble representation in the Hall of Fame, accounting for only about 2% of the members, and Vladev will be the first from the state of Texas.
Vladev had a standout career as an athlete in Bulgaria, culminating with a nine year partnership in a senior elite men’s pair with Rumen Lachkov (head coach of Boerne Gymnastics). They medaled in four World Championships (’90, ’92, ’94, ’96), including silver in 1994, two World Cups (’91, ’93), five European Championships (’90, ’91, ’92, ’93, ’94), and the 4th World Games in 1993. They have been named the best Bulgarian men’s pair of all time, and together earned over 20 medals from European and World competitions before retiring in 1998. Vladev began coaching in Bulgaria during his time as an athlete, a natural transition since he lived and trained together with younger teammates at the sports facility. One of his former Bulgarian athletes, Nedko Kostadinov, is now a distinguished coach himself and serves as the Secretary General of the Bulgarian Federation of Sports Acrobatics.
After retiring from competition, both Lachkov and Vladev ended up in Texas and started acro teams of their own. Vladev began at Gymnastics of San Antonio (GOSA), which was recognized in 2005 as the fastest growing acro team in Texas. In 2007, he moved to Browns Gymnastics and later founded Acrobatic Gymnastics of San Antonio (AGSA) in 2010. Accolades have followed his coaching career, including USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic Coach of the Year twice (2010, 2014) and Elite Coach of the Year four times (2015, 2018, 2019, 2021). Vladev has been both a national and an international-rated judge, served multiple times on the Athlete Selection Committee and the National Elite Committee, and was a member of the National Team Coaching Staff. He received the Distinguished Service Award from the Gymnastics Association of Texas in 2016, and USA Gymnastics awarded him the Master of Sport designation, an honorary title reserved for coaches who have demonstrated the ability to train and produce athletes to represent the United States at the highest level of competition.
Although Vladev enjoyed serving in leadership positions within the sport, his heart belongs to coaching where he can focus on developing the next generation acrobats both as athletes and as individuals. He believes strongly that success comes from focusing early on building a strong foundation in technique. Developing elite caliber acrobats requires patience and many years of good quality work, with “lots and lots of trying.” He feels it is important to not push athletes too quickly into skills or levels they aren’t prepared for, and that a coach’s role is to be the best coach possible for the individual athlete rather than focusing on glory or prestige. It takes time to develop the appropriate team culture, and trying to push athletes to do too much too soon is not a viable long term strategy.
As much as he enjoys developing athletes, Vladev also works tirelessly to develop other coaches as well. He has written a series of booklets to help young programs, capturing the wisdom he has collected throughout his career. Many of his former athletes have become coaches too, and he is always available to lend an ear or offer suggestions and advice.
There have been many highlights in Vladev’s coaching career, from the day to day wins in the gym to dozens of national and international medalists from his program. He also made history as the coach of the first Women’s Pair from the USA to win an all-around medal at a World Championships when Emily Davis and Aubrey Rosilier placed second at the 2021 World Championships in Geneva, Switzerland. For Vladev, the success of Davis and Rosilier was his proudest moment, not because of the silver medal itself, but because of something much more important that led to this achievement.
Three years before, after placing 5th at the 2018 World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, Davis and Rosilier decided to continue training for another cycle to try and reach the podium in 2020. Part of this plan included competing in the World Cup circuit in 2019, which started off strong when the pair won a bronze medal at the Maia World Cup in Portugal. According to Vladev, the pair was at about 95% of their potential at this point, with their sights set on the 2020 Championships. Fate would intervene, however, when Rosilier suffered a devastating knee injury during the Puurs World Cup finals in Belgium, an injury that ended their season and threatened to end their career.
After the injury, Rosilier faced reconstructive surgery and nearly a year of rehab, which almost forced an early retirement. “They needed someone to believe in them so that they could believe in themselves,” said Vladev. He encouraged them to not give up on their dreams, and they listened. From 95% just weeks before, the pair had to start over at ground zero and build back up again, both physically and mentally. Being able to coach them through that drop from the pinnacle to the depths of despair, and then to reach an even higher peak, is what Vladev cites as his greatest personal achievement as a coach.
Future of the Sport
Since 2021, Vladev has had the chance to step back a bit from the world stage, and lately he can be spotted sitting on the floor with the level 5 team. He still coaches the elites too, especially as they will be ramping up in preparation for the next world championship cycle, but he enjoys this change in pace. He says he doesn’t want to be a coach who only focuses on the top athletes, and he also wants to ensure the “wheel keeps turning” by continuing to build a solid foundation at all levels of his team. He is happy to pass the baton to the next generation of coaches so that they can build experience and continue the winning tradition of acrobatics in the USA.
Most of all, Vladev says he wants to express his gratitude and appreciation to all of the athletes, coaches and officials he has worked with throughout his career to achieve this success, because none of it could have been accomplished by one person alone. “This is a not an achievement of one person, rather it is an achievement for all of us, our Acro community and our sport. Thank you to everyone for your dedication, commitment and hard work!”
Many might consider being named to the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame as the pinnacle of their career, but Vladev feels he still has much to accomplish. “I have the daily opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young athletes, and that is my purpose. I am building stronger characters and better human beings through the tools of the sport of acrobatics, and this is the most significant legacy I can pursue.”
Editor’s note: We know that Vladi has touched the hearts of many athletes throughout his career and we deeply regret that we couldn’t share all of those stories here. We would love to hear them, though! We encourage athletes, parents & others to post a link to this story on your social media along with photos, great experiences, positive thoughts and comments! Please use the hashtag #thanksvladiagsa so that we can follow them!