How Team U.S.A.'s Gymnasts Debunk The Myth That Women Don't Support Each Other
It's no secret that the women of the United States Olympic gymnastics team are amazing role models. Ranging in age from 16 to 22, the "Final Five" epitomize the importance of work ethic, dedication, physical and mental strength, and pursuing your dreams no matter how many times you get knocked down. Not only are they capable of executing mind-blowing moves on the floor, beam, bars, and vault; they do so under the most high-pressure circumstances possible. But they're role models for another important reason that applies to girls and women everywhere — Team U.S.A.'s gymnasts are each other's biggest supporters, even though they're competing against each other in five out of the six Olympic events.
This is one of the things that makes gymnastics unique in the world of Olympic sports; in the course of the games, gymnasts compete both as a team and as competitors. In the majority of other sports, it's one or the other — soccer and basketball are always team sports, while figure skaters solely compete against each other. So, although gymnasts certainly want to bring home a team medal, they also have their eyes on individual medals — especially that highly-coveted individual all-around. In fact, Dominique Dawes, a member of the 1996 "Magnificent Seven" team, told Fox Sports in 2012 that she considered her teammates as competitors first and friends second.
The Final Five seem to have a different perspective. Following their team gold medal, the young women spoke on the TODAY show about how their friendships with one another made the victory even sweeter: "It's so amazing, especially to share it with these girls. They are like my older sisters. It's kind of like I won a gold medal with my family," 16-year-old Laurie Hernandez explained.
With the team final out of the way, only individual competitions remained — so, did the gloves come off? Quite the opposite. Case in point: the fact that Simone Biles and Aly Raisman proudly refer to themselves as #FriendshipGoals, even though they're each other's main competitors at the Rio Olympics. After Biles and Raisman finished first and second respectively in the individual all-around, Biles wrote the most touching tribute to her friend. (I'm not crying — you are.)
Going into the all-around, it was pretty clear who would bring home the gold — and, prior to the competition, Raisman matter-of-factly acknowledged that “I go into (the all-around) knowing that” Biles will win. And she was right — her teammate cemented the well-deserved title of best female gymnast of all time after her Olympic performance.
But even as they competed against one another in each event, they were each other's biggest cheerleaders. After each successful routine, they were the first to exchange hugs and congratulations, and they walked hand-in-hand when it was time to head to the next apparatus. When the final floor scores established that Biles had indeed won the gold, it was a surprise to no one — but nevertheless an amazing moment to witness. She enjoyed a moment in the spotlight for a hot second before gesturing for Raisman to join her.
Biles and Raisman, who are also roommates in Olympic Village, aren't the only ones who give us #BFFGoals. Raisman, the team captain, is affectionately referred to as "Grandma Aly" and "Mama Aly" by her teammates and Laurie Hernandez, the team's youngest member, recently posted this adorable photo to Instagram:
Like every other gymnastics fan, seeing these posts and photos immediately brings a smile to my face. But they're more than just "cute" — they speak volumes about the tight-knit relationship between a group of young women that has thrived despite the fact that they are each other's biggest competition.
The media loves to cover feuds between Olympic athletes — and it's been going on for years. Who could forget that infamous moment when Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by Shane Stant, who had been hired by Tonya Harding's bodyguard and then-husband to sabotage her chances at the 1994 Olympics? The tabloids shamelessly used it as fodder and treated it like a "catfight" rather than a crime. Considering that history, the Final Five send an amazing, empowering message to all the young girls who are watching them from home and following them on social media — when women support each other, it allows all of us to be our best, regardless of the passions we choose to pursue.
And, more generally, there's a common conception that women often don't support other women in the workplace. While female co-workers do sometimes bully each other, many more support each other, but don't get the same kind of press for it — so we should all take a moment to appreciate that a group of very young women (several of whom are still in high school) have managed to avoid that pitfall. We could all take a lesson from them — like how when the "two athlete per country" rule meant Gabby Douglas couldn't defend her Olympic all-around title, she still enthusiastically cheered on Biles and Raisman from the stands.
This clear show of camaraderie and friendship is especially important for the teenage girls watching at home — when I was in high school, I was a complete perfectionist and so were my competitors at school and in ballet. It put a wedge in plenty of my friendships. It's safe to say that the Final Five are the ultimate perfectionists, but they don't let that stop them from being each other's biggest supporters and celebrating one another's victories. Regardless of the dreams their fans are pursuing, this is an incredibly encouraging message to send: we shouldn't be threatened by those who can beat us. They can still be our best friends and our cheerleaders — and we can look past our own disappointments and honor their well-deserved achievements.
I would also argue that the empowering message goes beyond teenagers and applies to adult women, too. In the working world, it's easy to feel wary of the most successful women in the office. As a result, it's common to keep our distance — and this is a real shame, because we can learn so much from each other. As the Final Five prove, women are always stronger when they work together and support one another.