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feat.Sac.web01.jpgImagine that your longtime dream has been to win a medal in gymnastics at the Olympics in Beijing this August. You have been training incessantly for years, but over the past several months your work has become an obsession. Except for Sunday, you train every day for hours, repeating the components of your various routines over and over and over again. Three days a week you train twice as hard, spending six hours a day tumbling, leaping, somersaulting, running, and twisting impossibly through the air.

Imagine that you are a Brown student in 2008. You take courses like History of France and Economic Development and Social Change. You attend class regularly, take careful notes, participate in the discussions and study groups, read, absorb, then read some more. Somehow you find time to coach some of your fellow Brown gymnasts. You study hard for exams, write papers, and meet with your professors.

Now imagine doing both these things at the same time.

You have just imagined the daily life of Alicia Sacramone, a Brown sophomore who also happens to be one of the worlds best gymnasts. When you watch Sacramone compete in floor exercisesher best eventyou find yourself wondering whether Newton was wrong about gravity. Sacramones soaring leaps appear effortless, and her movements seem punishingly athletic, astonishingly graceful, and downright joyful.

During competitions, Sacramone appears relaxed and voluble with her teammates, but when her turn comes up she is determined and unstoppable. In 2005, Sacramone, the USA Gymnastics Sportswoman of the Year, was the U.S. national champion on the vault and on floor exercises. She was also that years world champion on the floor and the worlds third-best female gymnast on the vault, an event she usually dominates. In 2006, she was second in the world on the vault, and as captain of the U.S. team, she led the countrys women gymnasts to a second-place finish at the World Gymnastics Championships.

She was also captain of the U.S. team at the world championships in Stuttgart, Germany, last September. On the final day of competition, with only the floor exercises left to complete, the team trailed China by a narrow margin, thanks to missteps on the balance beam. Three U.S. women would perform routines on the floor. Sacramones would be the last. The women would need to be nearly flawless to overtake the Chinese team. Oh, my God, Sacramone thought, this is the most stress Ive ever been under in my life.feat.Sac.web02.jpg

While waiting for the routines to begin, Sacramone gathered her teammates around her. Its not over, guys, she told them. Everybody makes mistakes. We can do it. And they did. By the time Sacramone and her teammates had finished their floor routines, the team led China by less than a point, winning the gold by 0.95 points, to be exact. Sacramone burst into tears. In the final individual standings, Sacramone finished second in the floor exercises, by 0.025 points to her U.S. teammate Shawn Johnson, and took third on the vault, behind athletes from China and North Korea. But winning the team gold in Stuttgart, she says, was sweetest of all: It was overwhelming because you always dream about winning that medal. When you actually get it, you dont know how to react. It was surreal. Everybody was crying.

For gymnasts, however, there is no great-er competition than the Olympics. After Germany, Sacramone knew she would have to train like never before. Somehow, during her freshman year at Brown, she had found time to serve as captain of the Brown gymnastics team and had wasted no time entering the record book. At the Ivy Classic in February 2007World Champ Looms at Ivy Classic, brooded Penns student newspaper before the competitionshe set a new all-around tournament record and tied the previous vault high. She became the first Ivy League gymnast ever to finish first in every single event. She followed this up by finishing first in the floor exercises at the NCAA Northeast Regional Championship. She set Brown records on the vault, floor, and all-around.

With the Olympics on the horizon, however, something had to give, and Sacramone decided it would be competing for Brown. Shortly after returning from Germany, Sacramone announced she was turning professional, giving up her final three years of NCAA eligibility and signing with a prominent sports marketing company to rustle up endorsements for Beijing. Within the gymnastics community, the move was not surprising. The last Olympic gymnast also to compete for her college did so almost twenty years ago, but her college coach was also her elite coach. Sacramone, by contrast, was working with not only Brown head coach Sara Carver-Milne, but also elite-gymnast coaches Mihai and Silvia Brestyan in Burlington, Massachusetts, an hour and a half north of Providence. Keeping up with a rigorous academic course load while training with two sets of coaches was an unprecedented challenge.

feat.Sac.web03.jpgHer freshman year, Sacramone says, turned out to be more difficult than shed anticipated. Id thought, This wont be that bad. I can handle it, she says. But it was a lot of training, a lot of commuting back and forth, a lot of running around, going to class, late nights, just trying to get everything done. Im glad I did it. It was a great learning experience. It taught me how to manage my time. It even helped with my gymnastics. My consistency went up just from doing both.

But, in the end, she had no choice. Our national team coordinator looks over what everyone does, and she said, We are so proud of what you have been doing, but if you want to go to the Olympics, you really do need to focus just on that path, Sacramone says. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I figured if Im only going to be training for this, I might as well try to go pro and see what happens. The year before the Olympics is a big year for endorsements because everybody is trying to get their product shown at the Olympic Games.

The loss to the Brown team will be significant this winter. When I heard about her pro contract, says coach Carver-Milne, I had mixed emotions. Mostly, Im thrilled for Alicia and the opportunities she has in front of her. She has worked so hard and will be a tremendous asset to Team USA at the Olympics.

Interestingly, Brown was not Sacramones first choice. As a junior in high school, she was committed to UCLA, but she changed her mind during her last year. UCLA is a great school, she says, but it wasnt the one for me. It didnt fit. She knew Brown students who loved life on College Hill, including gymnast Jennifer Sobuta 09, and Browns academic reputation appealed to Sacramone. The campus is also close to her family in Winchester, Massachusetts, and to her coaches in Burlington.

She is delighted with her decision, and with typical loyalty, has persuaded Carver-Milne to allow her to volunteer as an assistant coach for the Brown team this season. An extrovert who could be seen at meets last year constantly encouraging her teammates and exulting over their performances, she is exceedingly popular among her fellow gymnasts.

I admire how much effort Alicia puts out, as a gymnast and as a friend, says Brown teammate Izzy Kirkham-Lewitt 10. Shes there for you 100 percent. Always. Her schedule is crazy. I dont know one other person who would be able to manage it. But no matter what, she is able to balance her two lives, in and outside the gym. As for in the gym, I dont know anyone who works harder and contributes more in the gym environment. She has so much positive energy all the time, its great to just be around her.feat.Sac.web04.jpg

Sacramone, who turned twenty in December, is the senior member of the U.S. womens gymnastic team. In a sport where the competition for individual recognition can become ruthless and bitter, Sacramone stands out as a fierce competitor and a gracious teammate. As a result, she has been voted Sportswoman of the Year three times. I think what makes Alicia such a great gymnast, says Brown teammate Kirkham-Lewitt, is that as fierce as she is competitively, she also knows how to have fun. These two qualities show up in spades when shes doing a floor routine.

There is, of course, no guarantee that Sacramone will make the Olympic team. Her training continues, but the crop of elite women gymnasts in the United States is large. She will have to prove herself in the Visa Championships in Boston in early June, and she will have to be at her best at the Olympic Trials, which will be held in Philadelphia June 1922. The final selection camp will be in mid-July, at which time the team and its alternates will be named. Sacramones chances of making it are excellent. As long as I stay healthy, she says, and continue training and stay in shape, my chances are pretty good.feat.Sac.web05.jpg

Once in Beijing, Sacramone believes her best chance to medal will be in the floor exercises. Floor is definitely my favorite, she says. You get to show your personality a little bit more. You get your own choice of music. You get to dance. It is a combination of elegance and power because you are tumbling, but you are also doing dance and jumps. I feel like I have the most fun doing floor.

I have never seen someone with more natural talent, says Kirkham-Lewitt. I think shes one of the most electric performers Ive ever seen.

Sacramone has indeed managed to collect a number of medals for her floor routines in recent years. In addition to her second-place finish on floor exercises at the 2007 World Championships, Sacramone picked up a bronze medal at the 2007 Visa Championships, and in 2005 she was U.S. national champion and world champion in that event.

I think what makes Alicia such a great gymnast is her strength and charisma, says coach Carver-Milne. Not only can Alicia do some of the most difficult routines in the world, but she does them with such confidence and style.

Ironically, Sacramones biggest challenge for the gold on floor in Beijing may come from a teammate: Shawn Johnson, who squeaked by Sacramone at the World Championships last year. While Sacramone is known for her artistry and style on the floor, Johnsons routines are all about power. Sacramone believes her loss to Johnson at the worlds came as the result of a skid on her landing.

But as a former world champion in the event, Sacramone knows what it takes to recover. Once youve tasted gold, she says, that is all you want.

Gordon Morton covers sports for the BAM. You can see Sacramones 2007 World Championship performance here.

Photographs by Richard Schultz





Comments (28)
02/05/08
 
It is nice that Alicia's teammates like her but she also has a lot of growing up to do. When she lost the floor gold to Shawn Johnson she acted like a spoiled brat. She refused to congratulate her teammate and she shunned Shawn when Shawn tried to congratulate her. Then Alicia again acted like a spoiled brat on the medal podium. 
She needs to learn to lose with dignity. Hopefully that will come with age even if she is already 20 years old. Shawn was more respectful at the age of 16.
 
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02/05/08
 
Alicia is a joy to watch in the elite circuit, her charisma and power are unmatched. I'm so happy to see a more in-depth interview with her, and to get to hear how focused on her gymnastics she is. I hope she is planning some upgrades on floor because the competition from both Shawn and Cheng is going to be brutal and I would truly love to see her with that floor gold around her neck :)
 
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02/05/08
 
to Kristina Mill: 
 
Alicia did admit that she was wrong in the way she acted, she clearly stated that in another interview so please don't come here spewing your disapproval. 
 
 
She is really one of the best gymnasts in the US right now and I really want to see her as a leader on that Olympic team. She's fantastic gymnast and I really wish her the best. And a couple of gold medals too. I really thought it was a travesty that Shawn Johnson can be called the world's best on floor when all she has is the big skills and not the entire package, I really wish Alicia could have came out ahead, even with that mistake, because Shawn made mistakes as well. 
 
Good luck team USA!!!
 
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02/06/08
 
Alicia definately is a candidate for the Olympic team, and I think she had very good chances to make it. I also enjoy to watch her routines, and she`s always good for a medal when she`s hitting. 
US Nationals sure will give a first idea about who will possibly make the team. 
 
http://www.gymnasticsunited.com 
http://guboard.proboards105.com/index.cgi
 
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02/06/08
 
"The last Olympic gymnast also to compete for her college did so almost twenty years ago." 
Not true. Kate Richardson did it in 2004. She competed for UCLA and Canada at the Olympics.
 
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02/06/08
 
Marcus. 
 
I am allowed my opinion. You don't like it move to China. 
Alicia is an adult and the way she acted against 16 year old Shawn was pathetic. She never would have admitted she was wrong if people didn't get on her case for her immature reaction.
 
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02/06/08
 
Kristina, you sound like someone with an axe to grind.
 
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02/06/08
 
Why because I dislike when people act like they should win just because they showed up on the floor? That is how Alicia acted.Alicia didn't just quit acting like this through the medal ceremony. It lasted a lot longer then that. 
 
I have been a strong advocate of Alicia doing AA in prelims at worlds, Nationals and the Olympics. She deserves a shot at an AA title. (her UB is no worse then Nastia's floor and vault)Pointing out her bad behavior doesn't mean I hate her. It means I have very little tolerance for people acting the way Alicia acted.
 
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02/07/08
 
Yes, she acted unsportsmanlike after she found out Shawn had won floor, and on the medal stand. Just don't pull a stupid line like "people act like they should win just because they showed up on the floor" Did you actually see her routine? It was pretty unreal. 
 
How about you go to World Championships and lose the gold medal by a fraction of a point...then we'll see how you take it.  
 
She's human, she made a mistake. And yes there was a lot of media and hype around it but she did eventually apologize. Of course you can have your own opinion and low tolerance for stuff like this, but get over it already.
 
Heather
02/07/08
 
I am allowed an opinion and I am giving it. You don't like it don't read it. 
 
She owed Shawn an apology. Not me. 
 
Alicia does act like she deserves to win just because she shows up. Her comments after she lost prove that. 
 
Sorry you are a fanatical fan that can't grasp reality.
 
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02/07/08
 
Kristina, everyone is over it but you.
 
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02/07/08
 
This debate could go on forever, both sides with some pretty valid arguments. I'll end my commenting by just agreeing that you are most definitely allowed to have your own opinion. 
 
But don't try to pull a passive aggressive statement about me being a fanatical sport fan when you can't seem to separate yourself/emotions/life from the actions displayed by an athlete months ago.
 
Heather
02/07/08
 
I was the one first attacked and insulted and I defended my opinion. 
 
Fact is Alicia's behavior at that worlds was noticed by the people that matter. It did not go over well. 
Fact is this wasn't the first time Alicia has tried to divide, You know what Alicia's actions pretty much are there for anyone to see so this is something she will have to deal with. 
I stand by my fanatical fan opinion because it is a fact. Fact is the gymnastics community as a whole didn't like the way Alicia made this Country look at that competition. I guess she will have to deal with the consequences of her own actions.
 
02/08/08
 
Kristina unless you know the whole story which you dont, you would think differently. In all her interviews she knew she was wrong. So chill out
 
Mary
02/09/08
 
I know the whole story.
 
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02/10/08
 
There are no consequences. You are a psycho. End of story :)
 
Lauren
02/11/08
 
to Kristina Mill: You are the one acting like a " spoiled brat" not Alicia Sacramone. If all your going to do is post negative responses, don't post at all. Because know one whats to read them.
 
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02/11/08
 
Stop calling people names Lauren. Why don't you put your e-mail address up? 
Didn't think so. 
 
Ignore them Kristina. Loser stalkers.lol 
Alicia is a witch. World saw it and world knows it
 
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02/11/08
 
I should stop calling people names.. 
 
But then you call Alicia a witch? 
 
Nice lol 
 
Here's my email address up, I'm so afraid you will e-mail me now, omg THE FEAR!!!!!!!!!! 
 
PS. Sacramone rules all
 
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02/12/08
 
A little off topic in this whole debate on Alica rules/is a brat- but how come she is training bars in one of her pics? (It actually looks like a nice handstand position too!) 
 
Does she still do workouts on ub even though she doesn't compete them, because I thought she hated bars! Just curious ;)
 
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02/12/08
 
Ella, Alicia trained bars last years but was asked to compete only three events at Nationals. She has said in the past that she really wants to become an all-around gymnast. I'm happy she's not giving them up, she would have probably won the Classic last year if she had competed all four.
 
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02/19/08
 
I don't think that a lot of people realize how hard it actually is to do what Alicia is doing. Succeeding at an Ivy League college requires a brilliant student, and succeeding at elite gymnastics takes an amazing athlete. Doing both at the same time makes her really special.
 
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06/24/08
 
My name is also Shawn.... that is neat! 
 
Good Luck Alicia... kick ass!
 
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06/24/08
 
great! I hope to see you in Beijing!
 
Reddy Wang '04
06/24/08
 
Why are you so quick to judge and not let someone err! Yes she might have behaved inappropriately, but sadly it sounds like you are offering the same behaviour when others disagree with you. Maybe that is why it affects you so much. Might I remind everyone, to err is humane, to forgive divine! Which will you choose... 
 
I'm sure Alicia has grown from her internationally viewed behaviour and wishes that she could retract it. People find it hard to change when others constantly force their mistakes that they've learned from down their throats. let's celebrate her beauty and spirit that is so evident in her routines - I'm not even American (I'm Canadian) and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her tryout for USA Women's Gymnastic Team. 
Keep growing Alicia - now go kick butt!!!
 
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07/01/08
 
Doing well at an Ivy League school does not take a "brilliant student." I did great, and I'm an idiot.
 
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08/05/08
 
I dont really know what all this fuss is about... yes, Alicia Sacramone made a lousy decision, yes she knows she's wrong... but... people this is an article about the amazing acomplishments of Alicia, and there's not really a called for Alicia-bashing on her own article... she's awesome, Shawn's awesome, they're both on the olympic team, so lets wish them both luck
 
Bec UC '11
08/15/08
 
Can anyone tell me what music Alicia uses for her floor routine? Thanks
 
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