Jo Nordhoff-Beard ‘19
I didn’t do much last summer. But while I sat on my butt and mindlessly flipped through TV channels, I remembered that the Olympics were happening. With the arrival of the games on our television came the return of sports that we Americans only think about every four years: fencing, swimming, competitive horseback riding and gymnastics.
I’m fascinated by gymnastics because my life goal is to be more flexible and have more coordination. My cousin is a competitive gymnast, and whenever I went to watch her meets when I was younger I was so envious of her athletic ability and discipline. This year, the US women’s team were the overwhelming favorites to win the gold medal, and they did so by 8.209 points.
This year’s quintet was different than those of previous years. Two members of “The Final Five” as they called themselves, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, were a part of “The Fierce Five”, the 2012 gold medal winning team who had not won a gold medal since the 1996 Magnificent Seven but had come so close in previous election cycles. Raisman and Douglas were the first ever previous Olympic gymnastics champions to return to the games for the United States. The other notable member of The Final Five was Simone Biles. While most of America didn’t know her name or face until she took the stage this past summer, Biles has won 3 All-Around World Championships and 4 All-Around National Championships. She was not in the mix for the 2012 team because of age eligibility, but as soon as she became a Senior elite gymnast she took the gymnastics scene by storm with her insane tumbling ability and boundless energy.
Raisman, Douglas, Biles, and their teammates Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian entered the arena with overwhelming chances to win, a predicament the U.S. had not been in during past Olympic games.
Previously, the U.S. women battled Russia and China for medals, but last summer, both these teams had major weaknesses on some of the four apparatuses and major injuries to key gymnasts that prevented them from competing at their full potential.
The Final Five struck the right balance of centralized and individual training with a system that had all gymnasts who were either on or in contention for a spot on the national team come to “The Ranch”, a gymnastics training center owned by USA Gymnastics, for a week each month to show their new skills and abilities. During the rest of the month, the gymnasts trained with their coaches in their home gyms to prepare to show more new skills at the next camp.
This training style greatly impacts the social life and mental well being of gymnasts. Most elite gymnasts are homeschooled and do not have “normal” adolescent lives, with very few friends outside of gymnastics. This intense and rigorous training style blows through many gymnasts that could have been contenders, losing them to injuries often right before major competitions. Many elite gymnasts also secure scholarships to elite colleges and have trouble adjusting to The five that remained had to see all their friends get sidelined, which put them in an awkward position of having to support their friends yet at the same time also being in a position tocapitalize on their injury and move up in the standings. By the end of this Olympic cycle, Marta Karolyi had the five right people that outlasted everyone else and withstood all the injuries and tough training sessions. She believed this made Raisman, Douglas, Biles, Hernandez, and Kocian the group that could bring home the gold medal.
Obsessed is an understatement to describe how I feel about this team. They performed so well under pressure and always kept their cool. I liked them as a team because they They also seemed like they had genuine camaraderie between them, more so than other teams. All of them commented on each other’s Instagram photos and supported each other by retweeting each other’s tweets and snapchatting behind the scenes antics. I was drawn to this team because they felt like real, genuine people to me, and that if we were in the same place at the same time, that friendship with either of them could be attainable. They were Olympians, but they also seemed like people with which I wish I had been better friends at school, which I believe is part of the reason of their cultural impact and continued inspiration to young girls.