I will admit it, right here and right now, I love the Olympics. I am obsessed with the Olympics, I cannot get enough. When it’s on the only way to hangout with me is to watch the Olympics with me, yes perhaps it’s a bit crazy, but there is nothing like cheering on your country on the international stage. From Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin to Misty May and Kerri Walsh, I’ve cheered for them all, but I think it’s worth noting why you probably all know these names, but the big name of gymnastics slips through the cracks. I’m not trying to say you don’t know Gabby Douglas, of course you do and if you don’t, I’m a bit concerned for you. Yet, she doesn’t stick out in any different way then Nastia, Carly, and Mary Lou. While all these women are tremendous and I remember cheering for Nastia and vaguely Carly (note to self rewatch Athens) and of course have seen classic Mary Lou moments all over the Olympics, I fear that Gabby will sink into the background of US champions and not get her moment in history. When my children are watching the Olympics, they frankly will not know who Nastia or Carly were, the media will push these two ladies into the back of Olympic history, only for Olympic fanatics and those who witnessed their years to remember. Mary Lou, who won in 1984, the first American All Around champ is immortalized, and here’s why I hope Gabby will join Mary Lou Retton.
There’s something about Gabby, that had me cheering for her from Day 1: I’m not sure if it was her smile or her comeback kid success in the months leading up to the Olympics. Gabby Douglas won a competition that her scores did not even count for, it doesn’t get more underdog succeeds than that. I liked her whole, the underdog rises story and that’s why I think I latched on to her as a fan, even before competition started and everyone thought the two competitors would be Jordyn Wieber, the world champion at the time, and Gabby Douglas, I was team Gabby. Then Jordyn didn’t qualify (which is still outrageous by the way, finishes 4th in qualifiers doesn’t make, load of crap) and Gabby was put in the position of being the favorite from Team USA for All-Around. I remember how happy I was, that this girl who was my brother’s age was literally taking the world by storm, she wasn’t a contender six months prior and here she was, the one the media believed would be fighting for gold against the Russians.
Yet, it’s not simply Gabby’s sudden contention, but also her story. Gabby was so dedicated on the goal and training that she moved to Iowa, leaving her family to do so. She was without her family for two years, and her mother fought like hell for Gabby to be able to get where she was. Her whole family gave something up for Gabby, they believed in her unconditionally and put everything they had into her dream. Her mother eventually declared bankruptcy and went on food stamps, struggling to get by but never giving up on her daughter’s dream. Gabby acknowledges this and seems so incredibly grateful, it made her character shine through.
Realistically, we know gymnastics is one of the most challenging sports physically and financially. Your career can be over in a second and the money that goes into training and getting into the level of competition these athletes compete in is daunting, many talented students cannot continue because the cost of the sport. Many potentially talented girls never try because the cost is unbearable. It’s the sad truth with being at this level: you need money to grow as an athlete, amounts of which are hard for many working class families to come up with.
Yes, Gabby has accomplishments worthy of history books without her back story: she is the first black all-around winner and she is the first American to win both the all-around and team gold. But this is not the only reason why Gabby needs to be remembered, she needs to be remembered because she is the epitome of both the American and the Olympic dream. She didn’t come from wealth, her family struggled to get by, but here she is an Olympic champion. This is the story we need, children around the country need to know that Gabby did it, that she defied the odds and that if they have a passion and a talent, they need to fight for it and work hard, and they too could be on that Olympic podium like Gabby. Gabby reminds us that just because we do not come from wealth does not mean that we cannot have an Olympic medal. She reminds us that the Olympics are open to anyone who has talent. That’s why we need to remember Gabby’s gold and why I hope she remains an icon even after years because her story brings hope, and that is exactly what the Olympic dream is all about.