Dominique Dawes arrives at the Fourth Annual Television Academy Honors, Thursday, May 5, 2011, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

For a long time, Black women were not seen much in gymnastics, lacking opportunities to shine in the sport. Thanks to Dominique Dawes, the narrative in gymnastics started to change, giving hope to aspiring Black gymnasts everywhere. She broke barriers and inspired others to follow their dreams, proving that anyone can achieve greatness with hard work and determination.

Dawes started her journey on the beam pad at the age of 10 where she began to compete as a junior elite. She ranked 17th in the all-around junior division during her appearance at the U.S. National Championships in 1988. The following year, at just 12 years old, she represented the United States at the Konica Grand Prix in Australia. Dawes began to establish herself as a notable figure in gymnastics during the early 1990s, achieving both national and international recognition.

The success Dawes reached at a young age also came with a price.

“I went through a very challenging childhood, in some degree, where I sacrificed my childhood to win an Olympic gold medal. It was 24/7 work, work, work, and if you weren’t doing well in the gymnastics gym, you felt little of yourself,” Dawes said. (

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Her performance at the 1990 U.S. National Championships allowed her to clinch third place in the all-around junior division. At the 1992 USA vs. Japan dual meet, Dawes, then 15 years old, amazed audiences and earned a standing ovation with her dynamic floor routine. Her routine featured back-to-back tumbling moves, reflecting the style of Soviet star Oksana Omelianchik. The routine impressed both spectators and judges alike, resulting in a perfect 10 score. Dawes continued to rise in the national and international gymnastics arena throughout 1991 and 1992.

Dawes is most remembered for her performances at the 1993 and 1994 World Championships. Despite facing setbacks of slipping and falling throughout the rounds leading up to the finals in 1993, she secured two silver medals on bars and beam.

The following year, Dawes found herself in a similar situation at the 1994 Worlds. In the first vault, Dawes made a mistake by over-rotating and falling forward into a somersault. Because of this, her score was low and she ended up in fifth place. Her mistakes continued during the event finals, and she did not win any medals at the championships.

USA gymnist Dominique Dawes of Silver Springs, Md., works on her floor routine during practice for the 2000 Summer Olympic Games at the Superdome in Sydney, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2000. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

Dawes however ended her year on a high note. She did exceptionally well at the National Championships, coming in first place in the all-around competition and all four event finals, beating her rival Shannon Miller. This was the first time since 1969 that a gymnast had won in all categories. She led the American team to a silver medal at the World Team Championships in Dortmund, Germany, achieving the third-highest all-around score.

Dawes struggled with wrist and ankle injuries throughout 1995 but recovered in the 1996 U.S. National Championships. During that competition, Dawes won all four event finals again. This made her the only gymnast to do it twice. Dawes also came in first at the Olympic trials, securing a spot on the 1996 Olympic team when she was 19 years old.

Dawes competed on the “Magnificent Seven” team. She won a gold medal with the first American team to ever win at the Olympics. Also, Dawes was the first Black woman from any country to win a gold medal in gymnastics. She retired from gymnastics for good after the 2000 Olympics.

Since retirement, Dawes has been inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame(2009), USA Olympic Hall of Fame (Magnificent Seven 2008), Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame (2019),  Montgomery County Sports Hall of Fame (2019), etc.  Dawes also was president of the Women’s Sports Foundation from 2004 to 2006, becoming the youngest president in the organization’s history.

One of the biggest accomplishments the Maryland native has achieved is creating the  Dominique Dawes Gymnastics Academy. The academy was created in 2020 to shift this way of thinking and make a positive and caring space for every kid in gymnastics. Opening the academy went through challenges for Dawes due to her signing a 10-year lease before the Covid-19 pandemic began. Dawes didn’t let a setback define her mission as she has opened two academies in Clarksburg and Rockville Maryland.

“I want to make sure that young kids, boys and girls, have a positive and empowering safe space to go to to be introduced to the sport of gymnastics, as well as to the sport of ninja. This is my way of giving back to the DMV [District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia] area that has done so much for me,” Dawes said.  (