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