Ray Reflects On Olympic Trials
July 16, 2012
SEATTLE - UW assistant coach Elise Ray won the bronze medal at the 2000 Olympics with the USA Gymnastics Team. This year, she went back to the Olympic Trials in San Jose to watch in person for the first time. Below you can read her account of the event.
I have not been to, or even watched an Olympic Gymnastics Trials since 2000, when I competed in them. Though it has been 12 years, the American pride, serious faces of those competing, and overall intensity of this year's trials, was exactly the same as I remember. The biggest difference being, of course, this time, I was only watching the competition.
The Olympic trials is the second biggest, most important competition of an elite athlete's career. It comes second only to the Olympic Games itself. My Olympic team in 2000 was the first team to ever be "hand-picked" by the USA Gymnastics federation. Before 2000, the seven gymnasts who placed highest in the All-Around, made the Olympic Team, it was that simple. In 2000, only myself and Kristen Maloney, who placed first and second in the All-Around were guaranteed to be on the Olympic team. The remaining five spots were picked by the federation. This year, the only guaranteed spot on the 2012 Olympic Team was the winner of the trials, and only four girls would be chosen to the team.
To fans, the Olympic trials are nothing short of exciting; an exhilarating competition full of cheering and clapping for your favorite gymnasts. To the competitor though, it is intense, and slightly terrifying. All the years of training, and your one big dream of being an Olympian, rides on how you handle the pressure and how you perform when it counts.
In 2000, I did not want to be "picked" onto the Olympic Team. I didn't want to be a part of any discussion. I made up my mind that I would win the 2000 Olympic Trials, so that I knew, and everyone else knew, I was on that 2000 Olympic Team for certain. And that's what I did. The feeling is indescribable when I knew I had done it. I cried tears of happiness, tears of pride, but mostly tears of relief. Few understand the pressures elite gymnasts endure, so when I saw each member of the 2012 Olympic Team cry, I knew exactly what their tears represented.
As every Olympian knows, to make the team is one thing, but to actually compete on the world stage in the Olympic Games is something entirely different. So, in a sense, the real work lies ahead for these young gymnasts. Unlike many other Olympic sports, in gymnastics, just because you've been named to the Olympic team doesn't mean you'll get to compete. There will be many, many, many, practices and practice competitions leading up to the Games, and each one counts.
Being back at the Olympic Trials after 12, in an entirely different capacity was both emotional and nostalgic. In one sense, I could still feel what I did over a decade ago, those emotions. I could still remember the balloons and confetti falling on our heads, finding my family in the audience and seeing them cry too. Yet in other sense, I wanted to run down to those young Olympians and tell them what to expect, how important it is to be there for each other, and most importantly, not to lose sight of what the Olympic Games are all about. For the rest of their lives, they will always be Olympians. Welcome to the club!