More Jamaican men needed in gymnastics

By Melissa Talbert June 08, 2020

Local boys in gymnastics- that’s something I don’t see every day.

Very recently Kurt Thomas died. He had a stroke on May 24th. Thomas is the first US male gymnast to win a World Championship. His participation in gymnastics was notable. He was a trendsetter- floor exercises and other movements were named after him. But Thomas gained a lot of popularity for something else. He was the first breakthrough American male star in a sport where the spotlight gravitates heavily toward women.

According to ‘Gender Expectations Sustained in the Sport of Gymnastics’ by Fei McMahon, gymnastics began to better prepare women for domestic work.

“Numerous works were released that expressed the importance of gymnastics and its ability to help a woman form a full chest, keep good posture, and develop morals. The sport was thought to help mould women to embody the “traditions of Republican Motherhood and the sanctity of true womanhood.”

When educational organizations began offering gymnastics between 1830 and 1870, female colleges used it to help young women prepare for future house duties. Though it was also an attempt to increase athleticism, women were specifically provided the training required to complete daily chores in their homes and to groom them into suitable housewives.

Over time gymnastics evolved; its purpose for participation changed. Still, gymnastics remains mostly a girls’ sport.

‘Masculine Domination’ by Bourdieu explains why.

“The construct placed on genders by society tells boys what they can and can’t do. The same goes for girls. Boys can’t be flexible and graceful. But they can be rough and tough. Society requires these constructs (opposing circumstances) to divide men and women.”

The ‘feminine’ bent of gymnastics can deter men from becoming or staying involved in the sport.

Not Stephen Lewis.

Lewis is a Jamaican gymnast who competed in the Gymnastics World Championships in 2017 as one of the five representatives for the Jamaican National Team. He was one of 233 participants at the World Championships.

A 19-year-old Lewis, at the time, competed in events like pommel horse, rings, vault, floor exercise and parallel bars.

Lewis’ coach, Matt Davis said, "Stephen is a very talented and hardworking Springfield College gymnast. To have this opportunity to represent Jamaica at the Gymnastics World Championships is a huge accomplishment for him."

A clip from Smile Jamaica titled, ‘Tumbling for Gymnastics’ on youtube warmed my heart. Gymnasts were being featured. They represented Jamaica at the Gasparilla 30th annual competition - a club meet in Tampa Florida.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a boy amongst the two girls being interviewed. His name is Jelani Harvey. At the time he was eight years old and had been gymnastics for three years. When he was asked why he started gymnastics he answered, “I saw people doing flips, and I want to do it.” He doesn't know when but he sees himself competing at the Olympics.

To me, it’s as simple as that. Why worry about what everybody else says or thinks?

Please share your thoughts on Twitter (@SportsMax_Carib) or in the comments section on Facebook (@SportsMax). Don’t forget to use #IAmNotAFan. Until next time!

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