I can still rattle off the names of the Magnificent 7: Miller, Moceanu, Strug, Borden, Chow, Dawes, and Phelps. That might not seem impressive since there’s no way for you to know I didn’t Google it, but if we ever meet in person, you can ask. I guarantee I will remember.
I was ten years old during the 1996 Atlanta games and, for a variety of reasons, I can still vividly recall watching them. One, it was a big deal since the USA was hosting. Two, the USA did really well those games. Three, it was perhaps the first time I was old enough to appreciate what the Olympic Games meant. And there is nothing so vivid about Atlanta for me as the Magnificent 7’s gold medal win. I loved them during the Games and I remained a huge fan after (there was a Magnificent 7 book, and yes, I owned it and read it repeatedly. Obviously).
Since 1996, I have remained a fan of USA gymnastics and gymnastics in general; it’s probably the event I look forward to most each Games. But despite producing some stellar all-around gymnasts, the USA hadn’t won team gold since 1996. So, you can imagine how excited I was to see them take home gold last night, steamrolling the competition with a crazy five point lead over the next closest competitor, poor Russia. (Side note: I must admit, I chuckled a bit at the Russian gymnasts weeping over silver. Lots of mini-divas and major meltdowns there).
I’m sure over the next few weeks and months and maybe even years, we will hear a lot about these ladies, christened the Fab Five before they even stepped onto the floor. We’ll hear about how strong they were as a team, about Jordyn Wieber looking rock solid after her heartbreak during qualifying, about Aly Raisman nailing her floor routine and bursting into tears before she even finished tumbling, about Gabby Douglas soaring over the uneven bars, about Kyla Ross’s grace on beam, about McKayla Maroney’s gravity-defying vaults (when she vaulted last night, I may have shouted, “seriously?!”). I’m sure there will be Today show appearances and magazine covers and Wheaties boxes aplenty. And these ladies will deserve every single bit of praise that comes their way. They lived up to their billing as the Fab Five. They really were fabulous when it counted most.
But for me, I must admit, the Magnificent 7 will always burn brightest in my memory. Maybe it’s because they won at home, maybe it’s because they won with Kerri Strug’s unbelievable vault, maybe it’s because they came first. Or maybe it’s just the passage of time and my nostalgia for the awe I felt in ‘96. When the Magnificent 7 won, I was a little girl and looked up to them. Last night, I watched five girls, all roughly a decade younger than me, take the gold. And while I was happy for them, it just didn’t have the same magic for me.
In the end, I suppose that doesn’t matter. No matter how old I get, I’ll still hold my breath every time a gymnast does a tumbling pass down the beam. I’ll still shake my head in amazement every time a tiny girl flies high on the vault. I’ll still cheer every time someone sticks a landing and I’ll still let out a little sigh of disappointment when they don’t. And one truth remains: whether you’re watching the Magnificent 7 or the Fab 5 work their magic, it’s good to be a fan of Team USA.