Athletes from 204 countries filled Olympic Stadium in London England in the opening ceremony of the 30th Summer Olympic Games. The top athletes in the world will all be competing for what they have spent years rigorously training for, Olympic Gold.
Team U.S.A. comes into these summer games with their usual lofty goal of claiming the most gold medals of all the countries participating. But while the biggest spotlight will be placed on household names, there are several young black athletes who have all the tools to end up atop the podium in London.
Twenty-four year old freestyle wrestler Jordan Burroughs is poised to claim gold in his first Olympic games. While a newcomer to the Olympic games, Burroughs is far from short on experience. The Camden, New Jersey native spent his colligate career wrestling for the University of Nebraska, claiming his first National Championship at 157 pounds during his junior year to cap an undefeated season. A tear to his left PCL and LCL during his senior campaign caused him to take a medical redshirt.
Burroughs bounced back from his injury in dramatic fashion, returning to the mat bigger and stronger. He joined the 165-pound division and would go on to claim yet another undefeated season and National Title.
Burroughs rode his success in the NCAA directly into the world freestyle wrestling scene, winning both the 2011 World Wrestling Championships and the 2011 Pan American games.
Burroughs hasn’t been shy about his plans to win gold either. When asked by Stu Woo of the Wall Street Journal to assess his chances of winning gold Burroughs said he was 100% sure he would claim gold in his 74kg weight class.
“Its gold or bust for me, I’ve beaten all the best guys in the world a number of times and I feel like I’m the best guy in the world so I’m just focusing on my performance right now. I’ve dreamed of being a gold medalist for a long time, it’s a culmination of years and years of training put into this day and I’m ready to win.”
Both the U.S.’s Men’s and Women’s gymnastics teams have received a jolt of energy from two young phenoms. On the women’s side you have 16-year-old Gabby Douglas who is favored to win gold in the uneven bars. Douglas’ recent gold medals in the bars at the 2012 Pacific Rim Championships as well as the Visa Championships locked up her spot on the Olympic team by coming in First Place at the Olympic Trials. While claiming a spot on the Olympic team was surely a joyous occasion, it was nothing compared to what Douglas experienced while warming up for her competition.
During warm ups for the U.S. trials Gabby got a surprise from someone she hadn’t seen in almost two years; her father.
Air Force staff sergeant Timothy Douglas, who had only seen his daughter perform on YouTube, was able to surprise his daughter at the Trials, a site that was welcomed by Gabby.
“I’m like, ‘Who’s calling my name?’ And then I look up. It was my dad and his friend, and I haven’t seen him in a while, “ Gabby told USA Today. “They were holding up the flag. And I almost felt like bawling. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, Dad!’”
Douglas started in gymnastics at the age of six and had immediate success, winning the 2004 State Championship in Virginia when she was just eight years old. At the age of 14 Douglas moved from her home in Virginia to Des Moines, Iowa in order to train with Liang Chow, gymnastics coach of 2008 balance beam Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson.
According to her father, he has known that Gabby’s heart was in gymnastics since she was a youngster. “We knew (gymnastics) was in her heart because one day she came home from the gym and she had a 102-degree temperature. She went to bed, slept it off and woke up and got back in the gym the next day. That’s when we knew she had a winner’s attitude, a winner’s spirit.”
For the men, Bronx born 19-year-old John Orozco has overcome poverty and personal hardship to place himself in position to win gold in the men’s All-Around competition. Orozco got his start in gymnastics through a program in the Bronx aimed to help disadvantaged youth. Born to Puerto Rican immigrants who both face health challenges, Orozco’s family scrapped together whatever money they could to keep their son in the gym and out of the mean streets of New York.
According to Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle, for years Orozco and his parents would pack up the family minivan and travel to meets, sleeping on a mattress in parking lots when it was time for rest.
Between the kids in his gymnastics classes born with a silver-spoon who and the inner-city youth that made fun of his proper English and gentlemanly behavior, Orozco found it hard to fit in. Eventually he began channeling that negative energy and using it to propel his work ethic.
“I felt like I had a target on my head sometimes, but I’m glad my parents taught me to be better.”
So while we all want to see LeBron and Kobe dominate in men’s basketball or Hope Solo and the women’s soccer team bring home gold again, take a look at these young Olympians if you get a chance. You may witness history.