Why we need Simone, Gabby and Laurie

Dream Team!

That’s what I call this year’s Women’s Olympic Gymnastics Team and for more reasons than one.

First, I have been to every Summer Olympics since 1984 and the USA has never been so dominant.

And second: This team features three gymnasts, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and Lauren “Laurie” Hernandez, who have been inspiring so many young girls of color.

The make-up of this team, rounded out by Aly Raisman, who is Jewish, and Madison Kocian, who is Catholic, is making everyone proud.

This team looks, finally, like America.

It also has solidified the black and Latina female presence at the top of this sport. For the past four years, the number one female gymnast has been African-American. Last year, Simone and Gabby were #1 and #2. This is powerful.

Last Olympics, Gabby Douglas was a surprise Olympic champion, and America cheered. Now the world has been able to witness the incredible performances of three-time World Champion Simone Biles, Douglas and Laurie Hernandez delivering the unexpected, yet masterful gymnastics routines.

On Thursday, Simone became the fourth straight American to win gold in the women’s individual all-around event. And teammate Aly Raisman earned silver.

We are witnessing the top of the sport, but it does not look like this at gymnastics classes across the country. Simone, Gabby and Laurie all took the same path as Aly and Madison to make the Olympic team. (They are the “Final Five” because the next Olympic gymnastics team will only have four gymnasts on the team, and this is Marta Karolyi’s last year coaching.)

But the reality is that gymnastics is an expensive sport, and gymnasts primarily train in private gymnastics clubs that are maintained by parents paying the cost of the training, facility, travel, uniforms, competition fees, hotel fees (for the coaches and their gymnasts and families) and the list goes on.

Most of these gymnastics clubs are located in affluent suburban neighborhoods that can support the business. These clubs are where the gymnasts get all of their training, and it’s a costly and long-term commitment for the gymnasts’ families. Aimee Boorman, coach of Simone Biles, and Maggie Haney, coach of Laurie Hernandez, have both coached their athletes since they started in gymnastics.

We must bring more affordable and accessible gymnastics training to the communities of countless young girls who are inspired by Simone, Gabby and Laurie. I founded my gymnastics foundation 20 years ago.

At my organizations, we have provided free and low-cost gymnastics, based in Harlem, for over 15,000 urban youth (primarily black and Hispanic) and have trained national and international champions. In September, we will be expanding to Detroit (my hometown) to provide high quality gymnastics to the youth that deserve the opportunity to learn and benefit from this great Olympic sport.

Gymnastics develops strength, flexibility and coordination for the body and hard work, discipline and determination for the mind. This combination provides life-long benefits for good health, success in school and work.

It is the inspiration of this team that will send thousands of young girls to take gymnastics and that is great. To participate in sport is so important, especially for girls.

Here’s the research.

And here, too.

This is such an exciting time. Thank you Simone, Aly, Laurie, Gabby and Madison for that serious showcase of “Girl Power” in winning the Olympic team gold and for motivating so many young girls of all backgrounds to begin their path to be healthy, strong and successful young women.

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