Some people ask me how I became such a huge fan of gymnastics. Really there were two reasons. Firstly, I loved to dance. Secondly, I loved the Olympics (the first Olympics I remember is the 1992 games in Barcelona). In 1996, I was almost a teenager, had my own TV for the first time which recorded things on VHS tape. And I was a night owl – so the Atlanta Games were often on when I should have been going to sleep. The team finals had me captivated and my favourite team were the Romanians. Artistic gymnastics had dance incorporated into it with no props like the rhythmic gymnasts had. I used my grandparents’ newspaper to find out when the other competitions were and remember recording and watching the All-Around final live.
I really loved watching Lilia Podkopayeva on Floor and Beam especially. And I remember words of Mitch Fenner’s commentary (and he still commentates for the BBC at gymnastics events with Matt Baker and Christine Still) “clearly a delightful mix”. She was not the last gymnast to compete and I remember the moment when China’s Mo Huilan fell out of one of her tumbling moves, Fenner’s audible shocked groan and the other male commentator proclaiming ‘And the title is Podkopayeva’s!’. As Mo Huilan courageously continued through the rest of her routine, I felt both bad for Huilan, but very happy for Lilia. Lilia became the first woman to hold simultaneously hold the All-Around titles in the European, World and Olympic championships for more than 20 years.
I started high school after that Olympics, and one of our English projects was a creative writing scrapbook where we had to create a character and a scrapbook of their life. Unsurprisingly my character was a gymnast, she was Scottish, but she was named Lilia. And I think she had some sisters who all had the names of famous gymnasts too! 🙂