RIO DE JANEIRO – For 1996 Olympic gold medalist Amanda Borden, gymnastics has become more than just a sport. It is a way to make a positive impact in the community, a way to inspire young athletes and it is what she built her life around with her Gold Medal Gymnastics gyms in Tempe and Chandler.
Borden is in Rio to cover gymnastics for NBC Radio affiliate Westwood One. While the U.S. gymnastics team has been one of the brightest stars in these games, Rio also marks 20 years since Borden and her fellow members of the “Magnificent Seven” captivated the nation with their performance in the Atlanta games.
That team made history in 1996 by being the first U.S. women’s gymnastics team to win gold. Borden is still in awe of the experience.
“To think it’s been 20 years just blows my mind, but then there’s other days where I’m like it was yesterday, I just finished the Olympics, what happened,” Borden said in an interview before the Games began. “I think I definitely continue to grow in appreciation for what I accomplished and what I was a part of. The opportunity alone is amazing to me.”
Borden’s path to Olympic gold began when she attended a gymnastics class with a friend at age 7. She was intrigued by the sport, but her Olympic dream took a little while to materialize.
“People always ask me, ‘did you think you were going to be an Olympian?'” Borden said. “I didn’t even know I was going to be a competitive gymnast.”
She quickly fell in love with gymnastics and began working harder and getting better. She eventually stepped onto the competitive scene at age 9.
Borden said she was the only gymnast at her gym in Cincinnati competing at an elite level. This made coaching fees expensive, and Borden considered moving on to another sport.
“I was kind of okay with giving it up and doing soccer or something,” Borden said. “But my parents were like, well you’re pretty good at it, maybe we should look around and see if we can find a bigger team that would support some of the cost of the coaches.”
The Bordens eventually found Mary Lee Tracy at Cincinnati Gymnastics. Tracy coached Borden from age 11 through her Olympic career.
“Amanda’s compulsories as an elite always stood out because she was both strong and flexible,” Tracy said in an email interview. “Her ability to perform has been one of her strongest attributes.”
In addition to the practical skills she learned from Tracy, Borden attributed much of her success in gymnastics and in life to her parents.
“I have said from day one, if I can be half the parents that my parents were to me, I’ll be successful,” Borden said. “Their dedication to me and my brother and our goals and dreams, their willingness to sacrifice…and their foundation of teaching us about hard work, dedication and commitment are things that we grew up with that I think definitely helped us.”
Her father, Doug Borden, said in an email interview that the family was Borden’s support system but that “it was her drive and heart that got her to where she is today.”
“We encouraged Amanda to try all sports and she did,” Doug said. “We were there to help achieve her goals.”
Full time job
Growing up as a gymnast was like a full time job, Borden said.
“I would workout from 6 to 8:30 in the morning, go to school from 9 to 2:30, then back to the gym from 3 to whenever we finished our assignments,” Borden said. “For me, I loved it. I am a grinder, I love the hard work, so balancing it all was stuff that I definitely chose to do and I would totally do it all again.”
Borden’s passion for gymnastics fueled her to keep going even when she felt like giving up. Borden made it to the 1992 Olympic trials, but ended up not qualifying for the 1992 team.
That left Borden feeling like she was ready to move on.
“I went to my parents and coaches and said, ‘I’m done,’ this is a lot of work to have somebody basically tell you you’re not good enough,” Borden said.
After following her coaches’ advice to listen to her heart, Borden said it took three days for her to realize she wasn’t ready to give up on her Olympic dream.
“I wasn’t going to let anybody or result take that passion away from me,” Borden said. “When the times got difficult, I just tried to remember why I started gymnastics in the first place.”
Over the next four years, Borden worked through her doubt and was named a member of the 1996 Olympic team, then voted team captain by her teammates.
“All the valleys that I went through in those four years, the tough times, the injuries, the frustrations, actually made me strong enough to handle the moment of qualifying to the Olympics and going to the Olympics,” Borden said.
Magnificent Seven reunion
Recently, Borden and her former teammates visited the Georgia Dome in Atlanta where they competed in 1996 for what will most likely be the last time before the building is torn down in 2017.
At the reunion, the Magnificent Seven recalled the moment they stepped into the arena. Before they even made it onto the competition floor, Borden said they were greeted with a roar of “USA-USA” chants.
“[That] really kind of put it in perspective about how big of a deal it is to be on Team USA and at an Olympic games,” Borden said.
For Tracy, that moment the U.S. won gold will never be forgotten.
“Besides having a child and now a grandchild, it was the greatest high of my life,” Tracy said. “The pride of being a part of the USA women’s gold medal team at an Olympics in the USA will be a fresh memory in my mind forever.”
Borden’s father related the moment to the George Strait song “Breath You Take” and the lyrics, “Life’s not the breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away.”
“Even thinking about that moment 20 years later still takes my breath away and overcomes me with such pride, joy and tears of happiness,” he said.
Borden still holds her gold medal podium moment close to her heart.
“There are only seven of us that shared that moment in the entire world and there will never be anyone else that shares that moment,” Borden said.