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US Gymnastics Team Captain Hopes to Make Dream a Reality in Athens - 2004-08-14


By age 25, most competitive female gymnasts have hung up their leotards, along with their dreams of being an Olympian. But this year in Athens, the United States Gymnastics team includes two members in their mid-20s. VOA's Rebecca Ward profiles the captain of the world class Olympic team who turns 26 in September.

Just four years ago, Indian-American athlete Mohini Bhardwaj would not have believed where she is today - serving as team captain of the U.S. Gymnastics team in Athens.

"I feel honored to be captain of such an amazing team. These women feel that I have enough experience to lead the way," she says.

As a teenager, Mohini Bhardwaj missed making the 1996 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics team by a fraction of a point. She did not even try for the 2000 Sydney Olympics while she was enrolled at the University of California in Los Angeles, UCLA.

"I didn't really even thinking about training at that point. I was kind of excited to go to college and move on," she says.

While at UCLA, Mohini Bhardwaj still competed at the college level and led her teammates to two championships. She then decided to try out for the 2004 U.S. Olympic team. But she was in debt and needed money for training. U.S. television actress Pamela Anderson read a story about her dilemma and stepped in to help with $20,000. The one-meter-47 Ms. Bhardwaj says the two have a few things in common - gymnastics, tattoos, and from her Indian roots, vegetarianism.

"My parents are both Hindu so it started out as a religious thing when I was growing up, so it was just something I followed," she explains. "Now I think it's more ethical and probably both."

Pamela Anderson has become one of Mohini Bhardwaj's biggest fans, and she is expected to be part of the cheering crowd at the Olympics.

"When everything's said and done with and I finally get home, we have plans to sit down and hang out," she says. "But everything's just been kind of crazy since she decided to fund this whole thing."

As captain of the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, Mohini Bhardwaj brings depth and maturity to a sport dominated by teens. Although she acknowledges her age is unusual for the competition, Mohini notes that female athletes in other Olympic sports often peak between age 21 and 29.

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