Fortunately we have another quadrennial event to distract us from the utterly depressing presidential election this summer. I must admit that I wasn’t really that interested in the Summer Olympics leading up to it, but I’ve gotten pulled into the whole experience, mostly from watching the swimming and gymnastics events over the first few days. The swimming was exciting, watching Michael Phelps add to his stash of gold medals and especially seeing Lilly King defeat the drug-cheating Russian in the 100m breaststroke. But for sheer awe-inspiring domination, nothing beats the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team (literally!).
The “Final Five,” as they’ve named themselves, put on a performance in the qualifying round and the team finals unlike anything ever seen before. But aside from the outstanding individual performances we witnessed, they won the gold medal as a team in a sport where they were each judged individually and in many cases were also competing against each other. To watch Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez, Gabby Douglas and Madison Kocian was something special.
Rather than recap the results, which had the US team winning by 8 points in a sport where differences are often measured in tenths, there were a few other things that struck me about these young women. The first is how they were each focused on trying to help the team. During the qualifying round, three of the women, Biles, Raisman, and Douglas, were competing among themselves to qualify for the all-around final, since only two gymnasts per team could qualify. Laurie Hernandez, in her first international meet, was not eligible for the all-around since she was left out of the parallel bars exercise in favor of Douglas, whom she beat in each of the other three events. But whatever disappointment she felt was invisible behind her radiant smile and electric personality as she competed in the other events. And parallel bars expert Kocian, who was selected for the team just to participate in this event, received the highest score in both qualifying and in the finals (where she tied). Douglas, too, came back with the third-highest parallel bars score in the finals, which was the only event in which she competed. They each did their best in their own performances but also to encourage each other to reach their team goal, which was to win the gold medal as a tribute to their team coach, who is retiring.
As amazing as it was to watch this team of women compete, it was when I found out how much they each value their faith in God that I became even more impressed. I think maybe the gold medal isn’t the most important thing to them. Perhaps we could all take a lesson from that.
Oh, and there’s another thing to like about this team. With all the racial polarization in our society today, I for one found it extraordinarily refreshing that no one, least of all them, made any kind of issue about what race any of them was. It was their performance and their camaraderie in the pursuit of a common goal that mattered. Another lesson our society could learn from them.
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