The 2016 U.S. Olympic team's outstanding performance in Rio has been a shining inspiration to American audiences back home.
Simone Biles just won a gold medal for her floor exercise, her fifth medal in Rio, and her teammate Alexandra Raisman took home a silver medal in the same category.
Not only have members of the team stood out for their athleticism and poise, but their general positivity has warmed fans' hearts.
Off-camera, the teammates seem like regular, all-American girls who can hang out and enjoy fast food treats:
This is a sharp contrast to what our gymnasts used to experience.
American gymnastics legend Dominique Moceanu, from the famed “Magnificent Seven” team of the 1996 Olympics, paints a darker story of a culture of body shaming and mental abuse from coaches.
In a recent article in People Magazine, Moceanu describes the psychological and physical strain she endured at the hands of coaches Martha and Béla Károlyi:
“The methods they used of threats and body shaming and humiliation as a tactic to motivate you to perform better, or calling you names of being fat or overweight were methods of physiological and emotional abuse. That does not create success for athletes.”
“I was 4 feet, 4 inch, 75 lbs., and completely healthy – other than the emotional and psychological wear and tear, and the stress of constantly repeating movements where your body is breaking down,” she says.
“There was no other reason that my body was broken down.”
The 20-year difference in gymnasts' changing body types and number of injuries is visible.
Take Moceanu at the '96 Olympics:
Here's Simone Biles in 2016:
Here's Kerri Strug at the '96 Olympics (where she famously performed with a serious injury):
And here's Alexandra Raisman today at the Rio Olympics:
Moceanu admits that today's U.S.A. Gymnastics team are healthier and more muscular, based on body image standard changes in the sport.
Simone Biles's strong frame and cheery demeanor are proof positive that gymnastics is taking a turn for the better:
“I know Simone Biles has a great relationship with her [head coach, Aimee Boorman],” Moceanu says. "Simone is not a numbers kid and she doesn't do the repetition that we used to do. And she's not all banged up, she's not all taped up.
Her spirit's healthy, she's smiling, she's enjoying the sport, and that's absolutely how it should be, and I'm so happy to see that."
U.S.A. Olympics has also recently come under scrutiny for several reports of sexual abuse, as reported in depth by the Indianapolis Star.
Though the sport has been plagued by recent stories of sexual abuse, and accounts of mental abuse in the past, the current U.S.A. Olympic team seems to signal a sea change.
Moceanu asserts that her generation had to pay a price for gymnasts of today to enjoy the sport, but if they're finally able to, that's “amazing.”