By Tyler Poslosky | BSU at the Games
Samantha Pezsek was 16 years old when she became a national celebrity as a member of the U.S. gymnastics team that won the silver medal during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
“Looking back, it’s all surreal that it was almost four years ago because in some sense it seems like it was yesterday, and in another sense it seems like it was a dream that hasn’t happened yet,” Pezsek said.
Wrapped up in her own routines and daily competitions, Pezsek had little time to soak in the overall experience of partaking in the Games.
“You’re so focused on your skills and your team,” Pezsek said. “You’re there for a job, so kind of enjoying the moment was hard to do because you’re so [concentrated] on your game at that point.”
Amidst all the anxiety and excitement of each competition, however, Pezsek tried to take a step back and realize how astonishing it was to take part in the Games at such a young age.
“I was meeting people like Kobe Bryant and Michael Phelps, people that are legends in their sports,” Pezsek said. “And to be classified with that group of people was the biggest shocker. I was like, ‘I’m only 16 years old. There’s no way that I’m here, [or] that this is possible, [or] that this is actually happening to me.’ It was awesome.”
Samantha’s mother, Luan, said watching her daughter compete in the Games was simply incredible.
“It makes me so proud to think that my daughter is an Olympian,” Luan Pezsek said. “All of those practices, clinics, private lessons, missed family dinners, missed school events, etc., had paid off for her.”
On the eve of the competition, Samantha spoke to her mom on the phone and assured her that she would be competing in all four events the next day.
That’s when her body gave out. During the last warm-up event on the day of the competition, Pezsek suffered a severe ankle injury.
“I was doing a tumbling [routine],” Pezsek said. “I think I tore every ligament in my ankle and did everything possible to my ankle.”
Luan anxiously awaited for Samantha to march out of the locker room and into the arena with the rest of Team USA. But when Luan didn’t see her daughter take the floor with the rest of her team, she knew something was seriously wrong.
“I ran on the other side of the venue and found the USA coaches—then had to talk my way through the Chinese ushers to get to the [USA bench] since I didn’t have a credential—and asked why Sam was not competing,” Luan Pezsek said. “That’s when I found out.”
Hampered by her injured ankle, Pezsek fought through the pain, competing in one event en route to helping Team USA win the silver medal, which became Pezsek’s biggest thrill.
“The coolest part for me about the competition was walking into that arena and seeing more USA flags than Chinese flags, and just hearing everyone chant ‘USA, USA, USA,’” Pezsek said. “It was so cool knowing that everyone [was] behind [us] and had [our] back.”
While Samantha took her place on the podium, Luan stood up from her seat and was all smiles—the happiest mother in the arena that day.
“It was such a great feeling to watch Sam and her teammates on the awards podium and seeing the silver medals being placed around their necks,” Luan Pezsek said. “It was a dream come true for her to make the Olympic team and then to win a medal.”
Tyler Poslosky is a senior telecommunications and journalism news major at Ball State University covering sports for BSU at the Games. Follow Tyler and the BSU team at @bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.