Dominique Dawes is a renowned name in the history of American gymnastics but her advancement in the sport was nearly impeded from the start when as a black girl, her body was considered deviant because her legs were “bowed” and her hair “askew” amid the racial prejudice which had crept into the sport.
But Dawes, born on November 20, 1976, in Silver Spring, Maryland found a passion for gymnastics from age six and had the good fortune of having Kelli Hill as coach early on and right through her gymnastics career.
As an Olympic gymnast, Dawes competed in three Olympic Games, (the 1992 Barcelona Games, 1996 Atlanta Games, and 2000 Sydney Games) winning four Olympic medals.
Dawes flew in the air, bent her body before landing back on the floor in a balanced, poised form, receiving praise and earning the nickname “Awesome Dawesome.”
When she burst into the international spotlight at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, she became the first African American gymnast to ever qualify and compete in an Olympic Games. In Spain, she and her teammates captured a bronze medal.
“Since then Dominique has won more National Championship medals than any other athlete, male or female, since 1963, as well as numerous World Championship medals,” according to a report.
At the 1994 National Championships, Dawes swept all four events and won the All-Around title as well as winning the 1996 Olympic Trials.
At the 1996 Olympic Games, Dawes and the US Gymnastics team took the gold medal for which Americans adored them. It was here also that Dawes became the first African American to win an individual gymnastics medal with her bronze on the floor.
Fans across the nation and around the world remember her as a member of the gold-medal-winning “Magnificent Seven” at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
It’s said Dawes’ exploits in general and her 1996 one in particular inspired a generation of black and brown-skinned world-famous gymnasts including Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles.
Her many feats drown the fact that she became the first African-American to earn a spot in the national women’s team at 12. Joining the U.S. Olympic artistic gymnastics team in 1992, Dawes’ team picked bronze and in the 1994 National Championships, “she won all-around gold and four individual events, vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise, becoming the first gymnast to win all five gold medals since 1969,” a report by Famous African Americans said.
With an eye on education even with success in gymnastics, Dawes attended the University of Maryland on an athletic scholarship.
She also pursued a career in arts including acting, television production and modeling. She appeared in the famous Broadway musical, ‘Grease’. Dawes also worked for Disney Television and one of Prince’s music videos.
She made it to the U.S. Olympic team for the third time in 2000. Her team earned a bronze medal after disqualification of a Chinese competitor. Dawes thus “became the first U.S. gymnast to be a part of three different medal-winning teams and made record of the most trips to the Olympics by a female U.S. gymnast.”
When Dawes retired from gymnastics later in 2000, she served as the President of the Women’s Sports Foundation and was also a part of Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move Active Schools’ campaign. In 2010, the Olympic gymnast also became Co-Chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.
The mother of four also won the 1995 Henry P. Iba Citizen Athlete Award, presented yearly to two outstanding athletes who have demonstrated good citizenship. She was named 1994 Sportsperson of the Year by USA Gymnastics and was a finalist for the 1994 AAU Sullivan Award which recognizes the top amateur athlete in the U.S..
The Dominique Dawes Gymnastics Academy founder is a 2005 USA Gymnastics’ Hall of Famer as well as having a permanent place in the U.S. Olympic Committee Hall of Fame.