Cruising through Facebook during this past week I noticed that roughly 66% of the updates were regarding the Olympics. Of these, a recurring theme surfaced that went something like this: "Gillian has now decided she wants to be a gymnast"..."After watching Gabby Douglas, my Peyton is bouncing off the walls and trying to 'stick the landing'"... "Madison has been glued to the TV tonight, screaming GO FAB FIVE!"
These girls are all quite young, one is only 3 years old. But, like I was in 1976 watching Nadia Comaneci score all those perfect tens, they are completely entranced by the Olympic gymnasts.
Despite women competing in more events than ever before (even boxing and powerlifting), it remains the petite ponytailed powerhouses who capture the hearts of little girls. Neither the runners and jumpers, nor the tall tan volleyballers, the precision divers, nor the bedazzled synchronized swimmers wield the power to render 5-year-olds blinkless in admiration, to inspire 8-year-olds to push their stretch a little further, and to give 10-year-olds the confidence to finally attempt that aerial.
I was four years old when I first saw Nadia, and for years after that my life's dream was to become an Olympic gymnast. Pesky things like growth spurts and an insurmountable fear of landing on my head eventually squashed that dream, but I had a good run of recreational gymnastics training at the local YMCA, and it remains one of my favorite memories of childhood. One of my fellow tumblers is still a friend and we still reminisce about the routines we performed, each time imagining we were flipping in a huge arena rather than in the multi-purpose room above the racquetball courts.
I remember, too, the morning my mother told me that the United States was boycotting the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. When she explained that this meant NBC would not be going, and hence it would not be on television, I burst into tears, realizing there would be...no gymnastics. I was beyond crushed. These girls were the only heroes I knew. They had superhuman ability to defy gravity. Nadia's fluid, graceful lines disguised the intense strength that carried her through every apparatus. She was so tiny yet so .powerful.
As I am writing this I just saw Gabby Douglas take a heartbreaking slip on the balance beam in her final competition. Despite such a medal-defeating falter, Gabby remained focused and continued her routine through to the end with more composure than most 16-year-olds could muster after simply tripping in front of a cute boy at the mall. Though as a child I didn't understand the concept of focus, I know that I and my fellow gymanstics-enthusiast friends could see it on their faces, and we imitated it. We had that "eye of the tiger" even if we didn't yet have the hearts of lions.
As my bio on this blog has stated from day one, Nadia will always be my hero. But I continue to be enamored by every new team of Olympian gymnasts. Mary Lou Retton, Kim Zmeskal, Dominique Moceanu, and now Gabby and the rest of the Fab Five.There is something mystical about these girls. They perform what the rest of us can only accomplish in the dreams of our deepest sleep. Four years old or 40, us girls just want to fly...and then land on our feet with a flourish.