Our U.S. women’s gymnastics team gave their national coordinator a fitting send off in the final moments before her retirement. In the Rio Olympics, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian and Aly Raisman won the team gold. Deciding to call themselves the Final Five was both significant and personal. In tribute to their mentor, they chose this nickname – the final team to train under the watchful eye of Marta Karolyi.
Who says that Boomers and Millennials can’t get along? Preparing for the Olympic competition, the “tough love” Karolyi helped create a deep sense of cohesion, collaboration and camaraderie. She’s from the old school – blunt and no nonsense. During training, she led with straightforward directives for maximum impact. The practice was often followed by a nod of approval, and then a reminder that their work was not yet finished: “I always tell the girls, we’re competing against ourselves….We want to come as close as possible to perfection.”
And these amazing gymnasts always sing the praises of their mentor. They see Marta’s meticulous planning, technical support and words of wisdom as a winning combination. They know she pushes hard because she wants the best for them. And thanks to Marta, they are connected in ways that enabled them to achieve their mutual goals.
Genuine young women, they are also grateful for the support of their parents. Without their dedication and sacrifices, these daughters feel they would be neither who they are nor here today. But the Olympics weren’t always open to women.
When Baron Pierre de Coubertin spearheaded the first modern Olympics in 1896 he excluded women, thinking it would be “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect.” In 1900, when they first competed in Paris, women athletes comprised only 22 of the 997 competitors. But things are changing. In 2016, the U.S. has more women than men competing for the first time in history.
This week, with a total team effort, five Olympic gymnasts wrote their place in history and brought Marta Karolyi to tears. But that’s not all. Through their successes, they’ll open doors for other aspiring female athletes. In gymnastics, between 1948 and 1984, American women did not win any Olympic medals. Although this is only the third team gold win since 1996, with this kind of enthusiasm, there’ll likely be many more to come.
These five Millennials now comprise the greatest dynasty in gymnastics history. Let’s hope the Final Five continue to be role models for all the lively young girls tumbling around and climbing on the furniture. This victory may give those who now pretend to be on the podium the courage and motivation to someday make their own dreams come true.