Going for gymnastics gold

Former Malibu Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich is in London for the 2012 Summer Olympics. On July 31, the women’s gymnastics teams began competing for the gold.

By Pamela Conley Ulich / Special to The Malibu Times

The gymnastic team competition was set to begin at 4:30 p.m. today, July 31. We leave our hotel at 1 p.m. and jump on the hot and crowded tube, London’s underground railway system, and take the Jubilee Line to the North Greenwich Arena. The underground exit is only about 500 feet from the entrance to the arena. The arena looks like a giant space ship. It’s a big, white, oval-shaped, tent-like area with 12 steel, needle-like projections towering more than 100 feet high and organized in the shape of a circle.

The inside of the arena is not for the faint of heart. It is filled with color, the floors and walls are bright pink, with dashes of orange throughout. At 3 p.m., we take our seats and watch the arena fill with fans and anticipation.

The judges walk in at 4:20 p.m. They are dressed in jackets with black and turquoise stripes on the lapels, tan pants, white collared shirts and turquoise scarves. They look somber and serious now, but only moments before a couple of judges snapped pictures of themselves smiling on the sacred floor.

The gymnastics teams march out next. They are dressed in hot pink, deep red and bright blue leotards, among other bedazzled colors. They are the “it” girls from seven different countries: Canada, China, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States of America.


Team USA, comprised of Jordyn Wieber, Gabrielle Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Alexandra Raisman and Kyla Ross, walks in with Team Russia and stands in front of the vault. Teams China and Romania stand in front of the uneven bars. Teams Great Britain and Japan march in and take their place in front of the beam, and Italy and Canada walk in and stand at the front of the floor. The speakers announce the warm-up and the girls take off like bees in a hive, each dipping her hands and feet in chalk, instead of honey, and working in harmony with each other, flipping, jumping, landing and bouncing like busy bees.

When warm-up is over, the games begin all at once. The arena is buzzing with activity in all corners. Gymnasts on the vault are running and flipping, while gymnasts on the uneven bars are flipping and spinning.

It pains me to watch the girls concentrate on the beam, which is only 10 centimeters wide, and the uneven bars while loud music is playing for the gymnast on the floor. I pray that no one will fall and break her neck. When the first event is over, they each march on to the next apparatus. Instead of from flower to flower, the gymnasts travel from the vault, to the uneven bars, to the beam, to the floor in a flurry.

Scores go up. Scores go down. It is hard to know who will win, place or show until the very last event, when Team USA takes its turn on the floor. The last gymnast standing—or should I say, running, flipping and dancing—is Alexandra Raisman. She sticks her final jump and the crowd goes crazy. Tension builds, the arena goes quiet. A minute later, the final scores appear, and team USA has won the gold! Some gymnasts cry, others embrace and smile. All gymnasts have survived, thank God. I leave the arena with a greater appreciation for small gymnasts, who are as strong as steel.

Three days later, on Aug. 2, we return to the arena for the women’s individual all-around final. Once again, the gymnasts compete on all four apparatuses at once and must have the focus of air-traffic controllers. This time, 18-year-old Raisman is not the last woman standing. Instead, it is team USA’s new golden girl, 16-year-old Gabrielle Douglas who wins Gold.

It was heartbreaking to watch Raisman drop from being tied for silver to not placing, but it was also thrilling to watch Douglas’ beauty, grace and strength. According the Olympic website, Douglas’ nickname is “flying squirrel,” but maybe now it will be replaced with “Golden Gabby.”

These slight gymnasts, despite all of their glitter and glam, are some of the toughest athletes I have yet to witness at the Olympics.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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