BY Art Thiel 03:50PM 01/15/2019

Thiel: Gymnast’s ’10’ sends joy to the world

UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi, formerly of Newcastle, reached the acme of athleticism and enthusiasm. It took leaving the Olympics fast track to do it.

UCLA’s Katelyn Ohashi of Newcastle has been a star in the Pac-12 Conference. / Pac-12 Networks

Given that the video herein has been seen more than 34 million times as I re-publish it here, I can be accused of being late to the party. I do not care. I want this video to be on this site’s timeline, and to help push it to as many corners of the internet as possible.

One does not have to be a fan of gymnastics, a team, a school or sports in general to appreciate the majesty of exuberant perfection reached by UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi, a native of the Bellevue ‘burb of Newcastle, Saturday at Anaheim Arena.

While I can’t describe it beyond how well her floor exercise routine speaks for itself, I will add that, as a follower of the national political news that is heavy with stories of debasement of civil culture, as well as a clear and present threat to the Constitution and the rule of law, hell, I was ready to be walloped by something joyous.

Ohashi’s display of athleticism and enthusiasm is unmatched in my sports-coverage experience, which includes nine Olympic Games. And perhaps because it wasn’t part of an Olympics, where the pressure seems capable of bending steel and light waves as well as mere humans, is why Ohashi’s delight washed over the event.

Besides dazzling millions, she is living a college woman’s life, something world-class athletes at 21 often yearn to do, but can’t because of the rigors of the ridiculous lifestyle.

In fact, the demands of the Olympic path finally broke Ohashi.

She moved at age nine to Plano, TX., to the World Olympics Gymnastics Academy, one of those expensive youth-sports factories that seem to produce far more heartbreak than gold medals. By 15, plagued by a cracked back, shoulder injuries and despair, she left the sport.

She explained some of her travail to The Players Tribune in a six-minute video posted Aug. 8.

Too often, sports becomes an impossible chase for perfection, especially for the youngest athletes who believe the enormous pressure to please coaches/parents/siblings is the only validation that matters. Any shortfall can be psychologically devastating.

In no sport is the intensity greater than in women’s gymnastics. The young athletes combine an eagerness to please with a vulnerability that helps open doors to the potential of life-damaging trauma, as seen in the recent sex-abuse scandal that consumed dozens of victims, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State. They allowed serial predator Larry Nassar to roam unchecked for decades until he was finally caught and sentenced to 60 years in jail.

Ohashi was not involved. But she knew she had to leave the Olympics fast track to have a chance at a real life, one that didn’t include near-starvation diets and all-consuming training regimens.

She won’t be on the same platform as Simone Biles, four-time world all-around champion and 2016 Olympics gold medalist.

That doesn’t mean she can’t share joy and greatness with the world.


YourThoughts

  • Matt Kite

    Bravo! My wife is a former gymnast and cheered this as soon as the footage hit the Intertubes. Amazing athlete.

    • art thiel

      A new frontier for the sport.

  • Husky73

    That last bounce made me cringe….in a good way. What a move.

    • art thiel

      Never seen anything like it.

      • Husky73

        I recall seeing Olga Korbut fly from bar to bar for the first time, and the Swiss skater pull her leg over her head. They changed their sports in those moments. Perhaps, that was what it was like to see Elgin Baylor in the 1950’s? He took a horizontal game of weaves and set shots, and turned it into a vertical game.

        • art thiel

          Not a bad analogy. It’s remarkable how transcendent athletes can alter the perception of what’s possible for humans.

  • Tian Biao

    thanks Art, that was fantastic. i can see why so many people watched it. sheer joy and exuberance. what a treat.

    • art thiel

      Please pass it on. We can use more celebrations of humanity.

  • I am 61 years old. i get choked up with joy every single time this video comes across my computer screen. I can’t remember any athlete, in any sport, exhibiting this kind of exuberant joy and confidence. In. My. Lifetime.

    • art thiel

      You are not alone, Dug. I’ve heard a couple of people say they have been mesmerized.

  • ll9956

    Excellent piece, Art. Thanks for publishing this.

    • art thiel

      Glad you enjoyed.

  • Larry StoneB

    Wow! Just wow! Would it be possible for her to compete in the 2020 Olympics? Would she have to ‘dumb down’ her routine, to conform to stodgy Olympic rules? Is it possible for any human to fly as high? With such grace and energy as to put birds to shame? We have seen it!

    • art thiel

      Possible, but I think the Olympics are behind her. She’s seen life after the rigid ordeal, and doesn’t want to return. She could actually get paid for her talent. What a thing.

  • Seattle Psycho

    Know I am late to the party but that was an extremely enjoyable watch. Not something I think you could ever see in the Olympics; “too stodgy” as an earlier respondent claimed. The music choices and the playing to the crowd are what made it so good in my opinion along with the gymnast herself looking like she is having a blast.