I was seven in July of 1999. The Olympic games were held in Atlanta, and though I don't remember much about them, I do remember watching the women's gymnastics competition with my dad. He had taken two weeks off of work to tape the games, and for one reason or another, we were both intensely invested in the women's gymnastics team: Amanda Borden, Amy Chow, Dominique Dawes, Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Jaycie Phelps, and Kerri Strug.
I remember my insides bouncing with excitement as I watched the girls compete, first on bars, where they popped out 9.8 scores, one after another. I envied their long lines and grace, watching them compete on the balance beam (I later learned that the beam was the width of a video tape, so I would frequently take one outside and trace my own colorful balance beam on the sidewalk with chalk). I still have pieces of Dominique Moceanu's floor routine, choreographed to "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," etched in my brain.
And then came the vault. Dominique's two falls. Kerri's failed first attempt. The way she soared through the air on her second vault and winced as her feet hit the mat, her left foot immediately retracting. The way Bela Karolyi's face lit up with pure elation before a dark shadow was cast, when he knew Kerri was terribly hurt. The roar of the Atlanta Dome, the way the paparazzi swarmed Kerri's stretcher, and the tiny voice that came out of the night's heroine, saying, "I can't believe this happened!"
Vaulting champ McKayla Maroney & the elegant, fluid Kyla Ross
Gymnastics' wunderkind, Jordyn Wieber
The quietly strong team captain, Aly Raisman
Gabby Douglas, who can teach you how to dougie
Awaiting Aly's floor exercise score and the confirmation that they've won gold...
(Photos via The Oregonian)
That summer and into the fall, I tumbled around our front yard with my neighbors, where we had designated certain areas for each of the gymnastic events. Our sidewalk chalk beam, the tree branch that acted as parallel bars, the long stretch of grass perfect for vaulting, and the rest of the lawn, the floor exercise. These girls, who seemed eons older than me, who acted with such maturity and moved with such elegance, had left a lasting impression on my seven year-old brain. I wanted so much to be like them. To have the same powerful, strong bodies that created knots in the air. I devoured books about gymnastics, went to open events at the local gym, and re-watched the optional events over and over again.
The Olympics stopped interesting me as I grew older, but for some reason (maybe because our girls were slated to win again), I've thrown myself completely into this year's London games. Dad's taken two weeks off from work again to tape the entire series of events. Now that I'm done school, I have no summer work to worry about, and I've been eagerly anticipating many of the events this year. Seeing the US gymnasts skyrocket to gold tugged at my seven year-old heartstrings. I can't help but think of my former self... how influenced I was by those young girls... and how young they actually were!
Watching the Fierce Five (as McKayla said they'd like to be called) excited me almost as much as the Magnificent Seven did in 1996, knowing that these young women are inspiring a whole new generation of girls.