Soaring to Higher Heights

If anyone has ever said that black of Latino people couldn’t do gymnastics has not seen this year’s London Olympics. I have always liked to watch the gymnastics portion of the Olympics because I always wondered how the athletes were able  to do the tricks they did, whether that meant doing a backflip on the narrow balance beam, creating a cross on the rings, or even doing twirls and flips in the air before grabbing onto the high bar. I marveled at the skill that these people had and in my young mind could not fathom how the judges took off points from their scores. Despite enjoying the show that these gymnasts were able to put on I never felt that I could see a black person doing that. Before you get all excited I was too young to remember the 1996 Olympics with Dominique Dawes and how she contributed to history by being a part of the “Magnificent Seven” so I felt that gymnastics was a sport only white people had access to.

Therefore when I found out that this year’s Olympics would feature black gymnasts I was immediately cheering for them. The two being 16 Virginia native Gabrielle Douglas and the 19 black Puerto Rican Bronx native John Orozco. Seeing two people with brown skin saying they were competing in gymnastics was something that immediately made me excited and I became committed to following their Olympic experience because I want to see a person of color be successful in a sport that is normally too expensive for blacks and latinos especially those from urban areas like Orozco. Also there is the fear of injury that is so common with a sport like gymnastics which Douglass’s mother admitted to having. She feared that if she allowed her youngest daughter to compete she could get injured just like her older sister did. These problems probably stop a many black and Latino families from signing their children up for sports that you would not typically find at a high school so the fact that the families made the sacrifice to support the dreams of their gymnasts made the stories of Gabby and John so much more interesting to me. I saw a video of Gabby’s mom talking of how she had to let her daughter move 3000 miles away in order for her train with the coach that help Shawn Johnson to snatch the Silver medal in the individual competition at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. John’s parents had to work extremely hard to pay for his dream and to help him get there his mother would take an hour drive to Chappaqua, New York in order for Orozco to get the training he needed (CNN). In a way the families of these two great inspirational athletes need to be celebrated as well.

Although both made it here, their Olympic stories have been different. Gabby has been nothing short of amazing having the highest score for the USA team in the all around and also participating in the most events for the team medal. Also more importantly on the day of the all around woman individual final Gabby Douglass walked away with gold beating out the Russian powerhouse of Victoria Komova who received a silver medal. Gabby became the first African American woman to win a gold medal in gymnastics in the all around competition and the first American to win gold in both team gymnastics competition and the individual competition in the same Olympics. Becoming the first African American to win a gold gymnastics individual medal is truly inspirational for millions of black girls around the world. Orzoco on the other hand struggled in both the team competition and the individual even breaking down at the end of his vault routine in the team competition. However, what I like about him is how he never gave up. He kept fighting which I feel is just as important as winning the gold. At the beginning of the individual competition he was down in the 20s for his score but by the end made it to number eight which to me is a pretty big improvement. There are a lot of people who were never able nor will be able to receive such an opportunity as he was that come from an urban area. He made it to one of the biggest stages in the world and although he did not walk away with a medal he walked away with experience and as a stronger person. I have high hopes for him in Rio in 2016.

If there is anything that Gabby and John have taught us is to not give up. Both of them have had two different levels of success at this year’s Olympics but both are important to people like me who like to see black and latinos in other areas besides just football, basketball, and track. We need more blacks and latinos in sports that you would not typically find them in such as gymnastics, swimming, diving, even fencing. Their resislient spirits inspire me even though they are younger than me. The child in me that has always craved too see gymnasts like me has finally been satisfied and I know if I am inspired I can picture future Gabby Douglasss and John Orozcos running to their parents telling them that they want to do gymnastics.


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