Dominique Dawes is a renowned name in the history of American gymnastics, but her advancement in the sport was almost stunted 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 got shot 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 United States 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 women’s team at age 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.