One of the most renowned names in the history of American gymnastics, Dominique Dawes was born in 20 November 1976 in Silver Spring, Maryland. Dawes recognized her passion for gymnastics at an early age of 6 years and attended lessons with Kelli Hill who remained her coach for the rest of Dawes’ gymnastics career.
With her skills and determination, Dawes soon became a force to be reckoned with in the field of gymnastics and at the young age of 12, became the first African American to earn a spot in the national women’s team. In 1992, Dawes joined the U.S. Olympic artistic gymnastics team which won the bronze medal in Barcelona. 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.
Making the cut for the 1996 U.S. Olympic team, Dawes led the Magnificent Seven to the first position, making the squad the first U.S. women’s gymnastics team to do so in the history of Olympics. A few small mistakes, including a fall, hindered Dawes’ contention for the all-around competition medal. However, she earned herself the title of the first African American to win an individual medal in women’s gymnastics by displaying the best floor performance.
Dawes successfully maintained a balance between her academic and sports careers, attending Standford University on an athletic scholarship which she had received upon graduating from Gaithersburg High School but had deferred her enrollment until after the 1996 Olympics. Being an all-rounder, she also began pursuing a career in arts around the same time, involving herself in acting, television production and modeling. Appearing in the famous Broadway musical, Grease, Dominique Dawes also worked for Disney Television and one of Prince’s music videos.
Justifying to her reputation of Awesome Dawesome, Dawes continued to train while gaining higher education in 2000 and made it to U.S. Olympic team for a third time. Initially finishing in fourth place, the team was moved prized with a bronze medal after a Chinese competitor was disqualified. Thus, Dawes became the first U.S. gymnast to be a part of three different medal-winning teams and made record of the most trips to the Olympics by a female U.S. gymnast.
The same year, Dawes permanently retired from gymnastics and put her efforts into other fields. Giving back to the community, Dawes served as the President of the Women’s Sports Foundation and was also a part of Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move Active Schools’ campaign. In 2010, Dawes also became Co-Chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. The former gymnast also earned herself a spot in USA’s Gymnastics’ Hall of Fame in 2005.
Encouraging young individuals to be active, Dawes gives private lessons at her home gym and holds a position on the advisory board for Sesame Workshop’s ‘Healthy Habits for Life’. Dawes also served as the National Spokesperson for Uniquely Me, the Unilever Self-Esteem program, where she gave tips to girls regarding self-esteem issues and guided them by sharing her personal experiences.
Dominique Dawes maintained her connection with gymnastics by covering the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games and witnessed Gabby Douglas become the first African American to win an individual gold medal in the all-around competition in 2012. Dawes hoped that Douglas would be able to inspire young girls and serve as their role model in a manner similar to hers.
Written by: Mandy Law