So begins the Wikipedia entry for – up to now – arguably the greatest female gymnast in the world. I was 10 when Nadia Comăneci got her first perfect 10 on the uneven bars in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics. She was 14. It was one of those moments. A girl – like me – was the best in the world, the best ever, the best possible at what she did. (She went on to get a whole lot more perfect 10s. They had to change the scoring system.) No-one could ever take that away from me. Girls rocked. They were powerful. Even little, light girls, like me. They had hidden powers.
I never forgot.
It was Nadia’s predecessor at the Olympics, Olga Korbut, who got me into gymnastics. She was extraordinary too. Naturally, as a kid, I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast. Seriously. Badly. The only thing that held me back was my utter lack of ability. Couldn’t do a handstand. Never mastered the cartwheel. I was a pretty good writer, though, so …
Years later, when I was thinking about my first book for children, I had this idea about a girl who was a genius at what she did. It happened to be fashion design. She was twelve. But what she could do was extraordinary. Even at that age, people who watched her could tell she was special. She became Crow in Threads. Many people have called the book a fairy tale, but I know that Crow’s talent is quite possible. Some girls have it. Nadia and Olga did. You wouldn’t know, to read it, that Crow’s fashion world is partly inspired by gymnastics, but it absolutely is. Those girls still inspire me.
Have you seen the video where Simone Biles winks at Shawn Johnson during a floor routine earlier this year, when she went on to win the P&G Championships? During the routine. Between one set of almost impossible, gravity-defying tumbles and another. You know I said Nadia Comăneci was arguably the best female gymnast ever – until now? Well, now Nadia’s coach, who is also Simone’s (she’s his final student), says Simone is categorically the best female gymnast ever.
Young. Small. Light. The best at the world at what she does.
Oh yeah, and there’s the GB gold-medal-winning women’s hockey team, of course, and Laura Trott, and Helen Glover, and Bryony Page (don’t you love the trampoline?), and Jessica Ennis-Hill, and Nicola Adams and … and …
All around the world, but especially, I’m guessing, all around Great Britain, ten year old girls have been watching TV and thinking a bit. So many inspiring stories. I love picturing them picturing what they’ll do next. Maybe just some extra sport at school. Maybe a gym club. Maybe county hockey … Or maybe like me they’ll end up being inspired in other ways.
Girls heart books. Girls heart sport. Girls heart other girls who are amazing. And that’s the thing: girls just are.