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Bend Olympic gymnast speaks on breaking cultural barriers, Simone Biles saga

(Update: Adding video, comments in live interview)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- As the captain of the U.S. women's gymnastics team in 2004, Mohini Bhardwaj-Barry helped propel the ladies to a silver medal at the summer games in Athens. At the time, she did not know how rare that accomplishment was for someone like her, and the future Bend resident never predicted what would come next.

With that silver medal, Bhardwaj-Barry became the first Indian-American gymnast and woman, and second Indian-American ever, to medal at the Olympics. The first was Alexi Grewal, who won a gold medal in cycling at the 1984 Summer Olympics.

"I actually had no idea that I was the first Indian-American gymnast to get a medal," Bhardwaj-Barry told NewsChannel 21. "It was kind of a surprise to me. It's not something I sat out to necessarily accomplish. I think it just came with my hard work, and it just happened to fall that way."

That medal came during a turning point for Indian-American culture.

"Most of the time, Indians are very focused on education," Bhardwaj-Barry said. "Around 2004, there was a kind of like a breakout going on, with Indian actresses, Indian show cooks, and then also different athletic sports."

Soon after, officials at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. saw this shift, and wanted to showcase it.

They created a display dedicated to the very people Bhardwaj-Barry was talking about, including herself.

From 2005 to 2008, her Olympic credential, and that silver medal, stayed at the museum, serving as a reminder for the barriers she, and others, broke through.

"I actually had the choreographer from UCLA, who is Indian, tell me that I was her inspiration,” Bhardwaj-Barry said. “It's cool to be able to inspire other people and make them feel welcome, like they can do different things that aren't necessarily like the cultural norm."

Bhardwaj-Barry says she hopes her story motivates not just Indian-Americans, but young athletes everywhere.

That's why she sometimes brings her medal to OOA Gymnastics, the gym she owns in Bend.

“I mean, what's the fun of having it when it just sits in your house?” Bhardwaj-Barry said. “I want people to be able to touch it, to see it, and kind of feel the experience that I had.”

It's an experience she still looks back on with nothing but smiles.

“All this is 25 years of hard work,” Bhardwaj-Barry said, looking down at her Olympic memorabilia.

With fellow American gymnast Simone Biles announcing her return to action early Monday morning, NewsChannel 21 asked Bhardwaj-Barry how she reacted to the initial news of Biles bowing out of several events last week.

"So much shock, because as an athlete, my coach would never let me do something like that," Bhardwaj-Barry said. "At the same time, the culture of gymanstics is very much changing. It was shock, awe, but then very much respect. Who really has the guts to step out of winning a gold medal for the U.S.? It had to be something that was very serious."

Bhardwaj-Barry added the 'twisties,' as Biles' current condition is commonly referred to in the gymnastics world, is incredibly difficult to handle. She knows first-hand.

"You basically don't know where the floor is or the ceiling is, so you're literally lost in space," Bhardwaj-Barry said. "The twitsties sometimes don't even have anything to do with your gymnastics. It can be something that's going on in your home life, or with your friends."

Bhardwaj-Barry added, "For her to actually step up and be honest about it -- that's huge."

Bend / Central Oregon / News / Sports / Videos
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Max Goldwasser

Max Goldwasser is a reporter and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Max here.

Comments

34 Comments

  1. I love my country but I am so happy that purple head soccer witch got beat again. Karma for kneeling to our country. Stay in China you trash!

    1. As usual you don’t have a clue and just spew disinformation and hate. First they are in Japan not China and second, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Chile, UK and the United States all took a knee before their games in a gesture against racism around the world. And you may love your country but it’s obviously not the United States.

      1. The “Olympics” is about representing your country. If they have an issue wearing the uniform or what it represents….see ya. In regards to USA soccer? see ya happened.

        1. Diversity is generally determined by a country’s population. Since Blacks are the vast majority in Kenya, the team reflects such and your comment is just, well…stupid.

      2. Martha, that maybe the reason why NBC’s ratings for the woke games are tanking and the networks debt to advertisers is piling up. The way it works is if the networks fail to provide the projected audience the advertisers are paid back with free ad time. Yet another example of the left’s agenda and their attack on our free market economy.

    1. Yes, a cultural one. Guess her parents went against their cultural norms and raised her to believe she could do whatever she set her mind to. Imagine that!

    2. The woke left will attempt to make biles the hero of the mentally weak snowflake generation. Perhaps we should have a victims parade and include the women’s soccer team.

    1. So you think an amateur athlete should risk injury and future career instead of acknowledging her limitations? Athletics requires just as much mental acuity as physical strength and endurance. Even a tough football player sits on the bench if his head isn’t “in the game.”

  2. I hesitate to speak for my friend and former co-worker, Alexi Grewal, but I suspect he would identify as a Sikh American, as opposed to an Indian American.

  3. As usual most of the comments here have zero to do with the subject of the article.

    And do not reflect at all well on the folks submitting them.

    That said –

    Great recollections by Ms. Bhardwaj-Barry regarding her Olympic experience. And informative.

    Kudos to Ms. Biles for making the personal call she did and to our Olympic coaches and team for listening to her and continuing their support.

    If she had a physical injury that was serious enough to keep her from competing no one would utter a word or complaint. But because her injury is invisible, or internal, she somehow becomes fair game for all those who have no understanding or compassion for either behavioral health or moral injuries.

    That she took care of herself and then competed – and won a Bronze medal last night – says volumes about her tenacity and commitment as a team player. She didn’t quit and step away – she simply stood down for a time and her teammates stepped up and did right well in doing so.

    It’s called Teamwork –

    1. Nope ! Simone Biles suffered from her own press- too many commercials- too many left wing pundits telling her how great she is… she stated to actually believe she was invincible- then started to choke- big time- on the worlds largest stage- and she knew it ! Winning a “Bronze” ??? Just who exactly predicted that ? Lessons to learn here- Never announce a swan song- a final tour- even the Rolling Stones know BS when they see it !

  4. Nobody is watching these Olympics- too politicized- too woke- too… well, not enough squeaky clean boy band wannabes like Norways Karsten Warholm proving that “white guys can jump”… or at least hurdle ! Watching the African American Rai Benjamin weeping and apologizing to his Mom after the event- talk about privileged !

    1. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2021-08-03/tv-ratings-story-for-the-week-of-july-26-aug-1-wed-aug-4-2021
      Viewership for NBC’s first full week of prime-time coverage of the Tokyo Olympics dropped 52.4% from the same period for the 2016 Rio Games, but was still the largest weekly audience of any network since CBS aired Super Bowl LV.

      Streaming, overall TV viewership decline, 13-hour time zone difference… yep, some factors beyond any network’s control, but still doing just fine.

      1. “Tokyo Olympics likely will be least-watched of all time”… “NBC dogged by disappointing ratings for Summer Olympics coverage”… Clay Travis- Syndicated Sports Radio Guru- the guy knows what he’s talking about. Not doing fine- kinda like all things Biden- DOA !

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