The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

A Moment for Alicia Sacramone

The women’s Olympic team has been announced. It is certainly common knowledge in the gymnastics world by this point, so I don’t feel the need to go into dissecting it here. It is the correct decision, but I just wanted to take a moment to talk about Alicia Sacramone.

I held out a little hope that she might have been named an alternate, but I certainly understand why she wasn’t. Price serves as the backup for vault and Finnegan serves as the backup for beam (and they’re both AAers) so there wasn’t necessarily a need for Alicia, but still I had hope. It was not to be, so her elite career has come to an end.

I will always root for the gymnasts who turned senior from around 2002-2005. Sure, I had favorites before that era, from Dominique Dawes to Yelena Produnova, but the 02-05 group are the ones I followed from the beginning and the ones whose careers I feel the closest to. With Alicia Sacramone and Nastia Liukin finishing their careers tonight, that generation has completed its elite journey.

For me, the most important thing about a gymnast is the personality. Clean skills are nice, and I will harp on form breaks like no other, but being able to give something of yourself both on and off the competition floor is a talent that supersedes all other qualities. Alicia Sacramone mastered it.

Alicia let us in to every moment, and we knew exactly how she felt about every skill she ever performed. Whether it resulted in a clenched fist and a glance to the sky, or tears and a harrowing forehead press from Martha Karolyi, we as viewers lived every moment along with her. That’s what makes Alicia Sacramone special. If gymnastics is the Oscars, Alicia has a streak of Best Actress trophies that none of her peers can hope to match, and I mean that in the best possible way. 

Elite gymnastics can be a world where showing emotion is frowned upon. Gymnasts are taught to block everything out, to keep it all inside, to be stern and focused at every moment. Alicia waltzed all over that idea. Being emotional about your passion never hurt anyone, and Alicia proved that every time she arrived at competition. When you care that much, the lows may hurt just a little bit more, but the highs are that much sweeter.    

Of all the comeback girls, Alicia had the most reason to be out of shape at these Trials because of her Achilles injury, but she was farther along than any of them, showing up to Trials in the same form she showed at Nationals in 2011. Because there was so much else going on, that didn’t get discussed enough, but it was not overlooked. She was fit and fighting and making no excuses.  

Alicia put her fans and herself through a series of traumas over the last 8 years, starting with her emotional performance at 2004 Nationals, but for every tear-filled resolution to a beam routine, she gave us ten more sassy thigh rubs, ten more candid interviews, and ten more eye rolls at Mihai over his springboard placement. For every Beijing fall that gets replayed again and again, she saved Team USA when it needed it even more times, from being the only one to hit beam in 2007 Team Finals, to being the best vaulter in US history, to being the most reliable American beam worker over the last three years.

Alicia as a gymnast will be remembered for her boat full of Worlds medals, and while that is all wonderful, that’s not what I’ll remember the most. I’ll remember the tears. Because for every time this sport kicked her when she had already gone out of bounds, she came back swinging with a smile, a sarcastic look, and a giant Rudi that was almost, but not quite, stuck.

And that’s Alicia’s career. It was always a little raw, never quite stuck, and never quite as magical as you hoped it would be for her, but it was no less important because of that. If success is measured by the impact you make, not the teams you make, then Alicia Sacramone had the most successful Trials she could hope for.

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