Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Golden Night For Women's Gymnastics

The North Greenwich Arena (a.k.a. O2 Center) is often the stage for the world's top female performers including Madonna, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Britney Spears, Rihanna and Katy Perry.

Tonight in London, Team USA launched the world tour for women's gymnastics with a gold medal performance on the world's stage: The London Olympics.

Congratulations to the new Olympic Champions of women's artistic gymnastics: Gabrielle Douglass, McKayla Maroney, Alexandra Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber. The arena was teeming with Team USA supporters and local fans cheering on Team GB, which placed an honorable sixth in team competition.

During the event I was able to switch seats, moving close to one apparatus then another, starting with Team USA's vault performance (bravo, Maroney with a 16.233 score, the highest of any gymnast in the arena!) then a change to parallel bars, where Wieber, Ross and Douglas scored 14.666, 14.933 and 15.200, respectively.

Russia, China, Team GB and Romania traded spots for medal contention during the evening, and it was a surprising silver result for Russia considering Anastasia Grishina completed a brilliant routine only to tumble in her final landing on floor exercise (lots of team tears followed, though they may have been a mix of joy for maintaining a medal while not achieving gold). China also competed well but fell behind Romania.

Team USA had the final competitor of the evening on floor exercise, leading to a tearful victory huddle of cheering coaches and gymnasts encircled by TV cameras.

I spotted Bela Karolyi in a press box, sort of lording over all he surveyed -- it was interesting to me he seemed to have no interest in the Romanian team he once coached, and even across the arena you could sense him reliving his coaching glory days.

It was also very cool that the venue announcers introduced the Olympian with the most all-time Olympic medals, Larisa Latynina, the Soviet Union gymnast who earned 18 medals from 1956 to 1964. The audience cheered with Latynina on the big screen and she waved in appreciation, all unfolding only a couple of hours before Michael Phelps surpassed her record across town.

Team USA impressed me not only as competitors but also as Olympic Champions with high ranks for sportsmanship. After the bronze medalists from Romania and silver medalists from Russia received their medals, the U.S. Gymnastics women first shook hands with their fellow competitors before stepping up to receive their gold medals. I applaud this diplomacy.

I also have to wonder, however, why the Team USA wardrobe folks gave the girls SILVER team jackets to wear into the victory ceremony. Colour blind, anyone?

Shawn Johnson was not too far from my final seat, and she cheered and looked on with great enthusiam for the 2012 Olympic gymnasts. But you have to wonder what was on Johnson's mind in terms of what could have been.

While supporting all of the winners on this diverse gymnastics team, it pleases me most that Maroney succeeded in their company -- after meeting this home-schooled athlete at the Team USA Media Summit in Dallas in May, this young woman struck me as a rising star with all the right stuff to be a champion. I predict she will continue to succeed with all of her teammates.

Best of luck to all of the women's gymnastics athletes in individual competition!

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

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