All around, gymnast Abdullah-Simmons raises the bar
Men's gymnastics, a dwindling offering on America's college campuses, is as white as the chalk that Taqiy Abdullah-Simmons cakes on his hands to secure his sweaty grip.But on April 13, 2007, symbolically standing on the shoulders of the small group of African-American gymnasts who came before him, the University of Oklahoma's Abdullah-Simmons became the first black gymnast to win the NCAA all-around national title. It was "a first" that even surprised the 21-year-old. "I thought it happened in the '80s or early '90s," Abdullah-Simmons told ESPN.com. "I just assumed it had been done."
The all-around NCAA title comes with social significance. In gymnastics circles, some say the unspoken bias was that African-American gymnasts weren't good all-around, that they excelled on the floor exercise or vault, Amin said, but not other events. Galimore, now a USA Gymnastics vice president and an international judge, disagreed that such a myth exists. "I would beg to differ," Galimore said. "Mike Carter. Jair Lynch. Chainey Umphrey would beg to differ. No. No." At any rate, the Abdullah-Simmons family didn't let it stop them. "I never paid any attention to that," Taqiy's father said of the undertones. "I always told our kids to do all six (events). You've got to have a six-shooter. You've got to be fully loaded." "I definitely heard that, that African-American gymnasts were only good in power events, the floor and vault and, occasionally, rings,'' Taqiy said. "It makes it a lot better to know that I was able to be considered a good all-around gymnast and not just, you know, status quo."
This winter, he is recovering from two off-season knee surgeries. He had an operation on his left knee two years ago. He's had a broken collarbone. Groin surgery. A chipped bone in his ankle. Broken fingers. He's got a full NCAA season and the goal of leading Oklahoma to an NCAA title before this summer's U.S. Olympic trials for the 2008 Beijing Games. The trials are scheduled to be held at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia on June 19-22. Abdullah-Simmons wants to be there. "That would mean a great deal to me," he said, "because I've never really competed at home other than a rec tumbling meet in Philadelphia, when I was, like, six years old." Since then, this gymnast has made all sorts of history. Jay Weiner writes from St. Paul, Minn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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