Guests and gymnastics supporters from 15 countries witnessed an inspiring induction dinner at the Petroleum Club in Oklahoma City on May 20, and the only tornado present this year was the combined vortex of talent represented by the four inductees: Oksana Chusovitina, Shun Fujimoto, Alexei Nemov and Alicia Sacramone. Their addition to the Hall of Fame, which is housed in Science Museum Oklahoma, brought the total to 95 individuals from 22 countries. And for the first time, the entire ceremony was streamed on Facebook LIVE.
Mike Jacki, former USA Gymnastics President, was honored first as the recipient of the Frank Bare award. (The late Bare was the first Executive Director of the U.S. Gymnastics Federation.)
"I'm a little overwhelmed," Jacki began. "You shouldn't get an award for something because you loved it."
Jacki, a former All-American gymnast at Iowa State, took over the U.S. Gymnastics Federation in 1983. During his 11 years as president, he eliminated the federation's $700,000 deficit and eventually gained more than $10 million in annual revenues via memberships, events, sponsorships, publications and merchandising.
He spoke about the annual dual meets in the 1980s between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and how they neutralized Cold War tensions and united the countries through sport. He also witnessed the success of the American men's and women's teams at the 1984 Olympics, and Kim Zmeskal's breakthrough performance at the 1991 World Championships, where she became the first American to win the all-around gold. And in 1993 and ’94, Shannon Miller became the first American to win it twice.
Jacki's acceptance speech revealed many of the qualities that made him an effective leader of the federation: vision, creativity, humility and a sense of humor. "I have been truly blessed to be a part of this," he said.
1976 Olympic hero Shun Fujimoto was next, and his epic story had a profound result on his Japanese teammates in Montreal. Like Kerri Strug's vault landing in 1996, Fujimoto did the same 20 years earlier off rings. Having injured his knee on his floor exercise dismount, he kept his injury a secret. He performed on pommel horse and then faced the daunting challenge on rings. With his team-first attitude, Fujimoto was up to the task. He landed his full-twisting double back and winced in excruciating pain—and somehow scored a personal-best 9.70. He could not perform on the next three events, but his teammates picked up the slack and won Japan's fifth straight Olympic title, defeating the Soviet Union, 576.85-576.45.
Fujimoto gave his own acceptance speech in English. "It is a great honor," he began. "I express my sincere thanks to the Board to give me this great honor … I want to thank you for inviting me to the Hall of Fame. Thank you very much!"
Said emcee Bart Conner to Fujimoto, "Your honor and humility has been inspiring."
Oksana Chusovitina is the only inductee that is still actively competing, and there doesn't seem to be any sign that she will stop in the near future. When she competed at the 2016 Rio Games, she became the first gymnast to compete in seven consecutive Olympics. And she wasn't just an anonymous face in Rio. She qualified to the vault final, where she threw a Produnova (handspring-double front), the hardest vault ever! She also has won vault medals in nine World Championships.
Chusovitina's former teammate and now coach Svetlana Boginskaya translated her acceptance speech.
"Thank you very much, but it seems like this award is for people who are retired," she said. "But I am not." [Applause]
Chusovitina competed for the Soviet Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Germany and now her native Uzbekistan. Her move to Germany was tied to her young son's diagnosis of cancer, so they moved there to receive treatment. "As a mother, I would like to thank the gymnastics community all over the world," she began. "Because of their help, my child in cancer-free." [Applause]
At the last minute, Alexei Nemov could not make the trip because his mother needed emergency surgery. It is hopeful that he can attend the ceremony next year. But his absence cannot diminish the impact he had on the sport. With textbook technique and style to match, he helped Russia win its only Olympic team title, in 1996. Four years later he finally won a major all-around title at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. But it was at the 2004 Athens Games where his true character showed through. As defending Olympic high bar champion, he competed in the high bar final again. And when a 9.725 was flashed for his brilliant routine (six release skills), the crowd booed vehemently. When his score was raised to 9.762, the revolt continued. That's when Nemov remounted the podium, thanked the crowd and politely gestured for them to settle down, which they did.
Alicia Sacramone (USA), whose 10 World medals is second among Americans only to Simone Biles' 14, closed the ceremony with humor and humility.
"It is a huge honor to be here tonight," said Sacramone, who was accompanied by husband Brady Quinn, a former NFL quarterback. She continued by thanking her coaches, Mihai and Silvia Brestyan, and expressed regret that she had been difficult to coach at times. "I wouldn't have gotten anywhere in my career without my coaches … I am truly blessed to be here. I am so humbled."
Conner had opened the evening by saying, "Tonight we are honoring undeniable excellence." There was no argument about that at the end.
Read complete coverage the 21st induction ceremony in the June issue of International Gymnast.