As you might or might not know, the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Cup took place September 7-13, in Stuttgart, Germany. It is a Olympic discipline, therefore the gymnasts, individual and ensembles, fought for their spot at RIO 2016. Unsurprisingly, Yana got the gold, and it is with joy and pride that I heard the qualification of our national treasure Kseniya. But another gymnast filled my heart with admiration and happiness and her name is Grace LEGOTE.
For those of you who do not know, I started rhythmic gymnastics when I was in the fifth grade, and I continued until I came to Atlanta. But as we say, once a gymnast, always a gymnast, and it is with nostalgia that I watched (from afar) the international events of my beloved discipline.
Grace is a South African gymnast who earned her spot to RIO 2016, and who will have the honor of representing the African Continent for rhythmic gymnastics.
When I started RG, my idols were the famous Alina KABAEVA and the wonderful Anna BESSONOVA, but both of them look nothing like me. I often thought that this sport was not made for me, and that perhaps I should just go sign up for football (which was what I was originally going to do before I started RG). Fortunately, I had the chance to be blessed with wonderful, caring and loving coaches, who always supported and encouraged me. But what of those girls who do not have the support because they do not conform to the norm of gymnastics? Just as in ballet, rhythmic gymnastics is a very strict and rigorous discipline where the standard is everything that does not look like me, a petite, blonde (or brunette), melanin-deprived European. Not that Black or Brown girls are less able than Europeans to practice such disciplines, but first, they are not attracted to them because they do not think that the standards of the sports are applicable to them. For too long, we have associated Black bodies with robust and hard sports which required a muscular body, as the Black body is thought to be. Black people can run, but they can’t swim. Black people are savages, lacing grace and elegance. Partly for these reasons, no major gymnast has a Brown or Black body. So, representation matters.
For the past few years, Africa has started to send more and more gymnasts to international competitions, we see Angolans, Cabo Verdeans, Moroccans, Egyptians, and South Africans. Of course, the level is not the same, and compared to Europeans and Asians, there is a lot to be done still, but we are getting there, step by step.