Rachel Irwin continues her list of reminders why she loves this sport in the Post-Olympic period. Read Part Two.
3. The Journeys
Juxtaposed with what some might consider the shallow glamour of a gymnastics competition is the sheer effort it takes to get to the elite level and experience success on the international stage. Surely this sport must have more inspirational stories than any other. When I look at the athletes I feel such astonishment that they have worked so very hard, sacrificed so much, put their bodies through such rigorous and severe training and, perhaps most impressive of all, been so mentally committed to something for 10+ years. Those skills that we see performed are only able to be done because of the hours upon hours upon hours of grit, sweat and aches back at the gym. It is truly amazing. I want to reach out and shake all of elite gymnasts’ hands, even give them a hug, so that they know how incredible it is that they’ve got there at all, let alone to be vying for medals as the best in the entire world.
Some of my favourite stories are the comebacks. They are so powerful to watch and I find myself yearning, eyes glued, crossing my fingers and toes for the athlete to make it to the top just one more time since she’s been through so much. And when she does, success is all the more sweet. You really feel that you knowher, know what she’s had to do to get there, and know the utter joy she feels now that she’s got back to the top through all that adversity. Overcoming challenges of injury, age and everything else under the sun must have required some of these women to dig deeper than they ever thought they’d have to. And it certainly doesn’t always result in a fairytale ending. But there have been so many fantastic comebacks over the years and these should be wholeheartedly celebrated. It is a delight to see so many more gymnasts staying in elite competition for longer now, even coming back for Olympics after Olympics, proving that it’s not a sport that has to be worked towards for a lifetime and then retired from as soon as one reaches the peak. Some of them have been doing it for decades! Mind-boggling stuff. There is tremendous endurance and commitment shown in these stories, qualities that can only come from truly being in love with what you do.
But there are also the tragedies. I personally can hardly bear it when I hear or see some of the heartbreaking gymnastic stories out there. Some people on YouTube have entire videos dedicated to dreams being shattered and lives being ended by the pursuit of gymnastics glory. It’s all too much and I have to turn it off or the images haunt me disturbingly for days. Knowing how much it takes to get to the top means we also know how much can be lost. We know what the enormous physical (and mental) risks are on gymnasts, especially in places where the environment isn’t the safest or most supportive. We all earnestly hope that every gymnast has good people looking after them, helping them make smart decisions and always putting their health above everything else. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case for all of them and sometimes it has resulted in terrible catastrophes.
Perhaps it is because we know that the price can be so high that we value precious success in this sport even more.
So, in this ode to gymnastics, I want to say thank you to all the brilliant athletes that have given us so much joy over the years. We know it wasn’t easy. But you are all magnificent and, no matter how many falls we’ve seen and how much you might have regretted that glitter overuse, we will appreciate you always. And we’re waiting with baited breath for what the next competitions will bring!
Article: Rachel Irwin
Photo: Beth Tweddle and Amanda Reddin
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