NBC, July 1, 11:02 p.m. ET
The Olympic trials were over, and Steve Penny of USA Gymnastics stepped onto the floor of the San Jose Convention Center for the big reveal of the gymnasts who’d won a spot on the team chosen to go to London. As Penny listed the five members, the ladies, led by Gabby Douglas, emerged from backstage in their USA track suits, bouquets of flowers in hand. On NBC, Al Trautwig remained silent as, for almost two minutes, confetti rained down, tears streaked the gymnasts’ faces, and the crowd’s cheers never waned.
As Penny announced the names of the young women who would become known as the “Fierce Five”— Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross, and Jordyn Wieber—the fervor in the gym was palpable. Pomp and circumstance has always been a part of the games, and we’ve grown accustomed to witnessing the tears of joy and the shots of proud parents in the stands. But somehow, this year’s moment felt different. As someone who up until this point was only vaguely interested in the games, seeing the chosen team reignited my excitement for the occasion. It had been quite some time since a team this strong had come along, and the beauty within the unveiling this time around lay in the high hopes and expectations it encompassed.
It wasn’t just that Douglas, a black girl, was the favorite to lead the pack in an event where so few minorities are usually seen, though that was especially invigorating. And there were certainly bigger moments to come that delivered on the promise that the team held for us in those moments—Douglas becoming the first woman of color to win the gold medal in individual all-around, McKayla Maroney’s perfect vault finish. But we still live in a society where sports and the conversations that surround them are male-dominated, while women remain largely on the periphery. Seeing talented young women as the focal point of the biggest sports event of 2012 was refreshing and incredibly moving. For months following this announcement, there was no bigger story in sports than the accomplishments (and even the failures) of these young women.
We didn’t know that on this day, of course, but we could see that even at this moment they displayed a real camaraderie. As they looked over at one another in shock , sharing hugs and disbelieving laughs, the girls—who had each worked tirelessly on her own to qualify—were now a team of one for all of us to cheer on.