I was a young girl, not quite in kindergarten when this young woman:
did something that had never been done before in Olympic history. Nadia scored perfect – 10 – on her uneven bars routine. The judges could find no fault at all in her performance and rewarded her with an honor that will never be equaled. In 2012, with a different scoring system girls are scoring higher than a 10, but that will never erase what Nadia did. She will be in the history books forever – as long as there is history – for doing something that had never been done before.
I was 12 when this woman:
became the first American woman to score a perfect 10. I remember this was the year that what used to be the Soviet Union, decided they would not send their athletes to compete on American soil. There was once upon a time a thing called a Cold War, and the Soviets were our enemies.
Despite not having some of the “best” gymnasts in the world to compete against, Mary Lou became an American hero, and an inspiration for little girls everywhere.
In my 20’s for the very first time in Olympic history I got to see a little girl who looked like ME compete:
Well I never looked like that physically, but her skin color was something I wasn’t accustomed to seeing in a gymnastics competition. She was Black like me. In 1996 those games were in Atlanta, Ga. The Cold War was over and all the world’s best were in attendance. Dominique was a part of a talented group of young women, who were not expected to win it all.
The Gold was supposed to go to Romania, or the Ukraine, or Ubeckibeckistanistan. Some nation in Europe that most Americans couldn’t locate on a world map was supposed to walk out of the 1996 games with that gold medal. The Magnificent Seven said not this day bitches!
Although I was shocked and awed and proud beyond belief to see Dominique Dawes compete, and succeed like so many other Americans the stand outs of this team were Shannon Miller & Kerri Strug. I was a casual fan of gymnastics so I knew who Shannon Miller was and I enjoyed watching her perform. She was incredibly talented.
Kerri was the media darling, with the incredibly annoying voice, who completed a vault on a fractured leg to make sure that the Women’s team would not fall out of medal contention. You knew when she landed on that first vault she’d hurt herself badly, and you knew that her not vaulting twice would put the team in jeopardy. If you watched like I watched this tiny girl land that vault on one leg then collapse in pain and tears to the floor and didn’t cry yourself, well then I question your humanity.
I remember Kerri’s courage and strength quite vividly, but my love and pride went to Dominique. I thought if I had a daughter one day I could tell her I saw the first. I would tell my daughter that she could be better than Dominique if she wanted to. Dominique shattered the colored glass ceiling and now anything was possible.
That was 16 years ago.
This little girl was less than one year old in 1996:
She isn’t old enough to have watched the 1996 games and remember them. Learning how to crawl and stand was so much more important than those sounds and pictures coming from the television box. She didn’t even know there was such a thing as a television box.
In the 16 years between Dominique Dawes and Gabrielle Douglas there have been ZERO Olympic Gold Medalists who were Black women on the Olympic team.
Gabrielle trained in a vacuum that didn’t contain role models that looked like her. She competed against women that didn’t look like her. Yet, because one other had gone before her, she was able to think, I can do this.
Do this she did.
While there are still two more Olympic gymnast performances to come, the Individual events which can still produce medals and the performance of champions that will not…Gabrielle Douglas has nothing else to prove.
She is the best in the world.
She led team USA to the Gold Medal outscoring all of her teammates, including reigning World Champion Jordyn Weiber. Her scores were so high that even a floor routine that had her fall out-of-bounds and roll to the 3rd aisle of spectators before getting back in the paint didn’t matter.
It was that night of scores that got her to last night August 2, 2012. This was the night of the All Around competition, where the best gymnast in the world would be determined.
As the commentators wept openly that little Jordyn was not allowed to compete because of a rule that only 2 women from any nation could compete on this night, Gabrielle prepared.
As the commentators reminded the viewing audience that Gabrielle has a history of breaking concentration, and losing focus, and being fragile, and not being able to withstand the pressure of world-class competition, Gabrielle took the lead and NEVER gave it up.
Gabrielle was the definition of focus and preparation and talent.
As the Russian girls pulled out every trick in their arsenal to catch her, Gabrielle did what champions do, she performed.
Was she a perfect 10?
Her vault had sideways landings. Her balance beam had balance checks. Her parallel bars performance had a hop on the landing. Her floor routine was not quite as explosive as her Russian rival.
It didn’t matter though.
Over all, Gabrielle stood over them all.
Gabrielle has now made history. She is the first Black woman to ever win the Olympic All-Around Gold Medal. In time she will be a one named reference to greatness like Nadia, and like Mary Lou who came before her.
At this very moment there are little Black girls all over the planet, not just the United States thinking….I can be like Gabrielle Douglas. More importantly to me, is that there are little Asian girls and Hispanic girls, and Caucasian girls seeing Gabrielle and not seeing the color of her skin, or the hair that so many Black women (and some bitchassed Black men) complained about, they are seeing the best in the world at what she does and they are inspired to be even better than she was, last night, when there was no one better.