UNIVERSITY PARK — On July 27, millions tuned in to watch more than 10,000 athletes represent 204 countries in the Summer Olympics in London. The next day, one Penn State gymnast felt what it is like to walk into the most-watched competition gym in the world.
“While standing there waiting to be called into the gym, I felt like a gladiator entering the coliseum to fight for his life,” Felix Aronovich recalled.
“I saw my girlfriend and friends cheering for me and a wave of chills ran through my entire body, from head to toe,” he said. “It was electrifying, those few minutes, entering the competition gym in front of thousands of spectators.”
Aronovich, a senior majoring in engineering science, represented Israel in gymnastics. Also competing were Penn State fencers Daniel Gomez-Tanamachi, a senior marketing major, on the Mexican team, and Miles Chamley-Watson, a senior majoring in recreation, park and tourism management, on the U.S. team.
Now settled into their campus routines of classes and training, the three recalled the moments that come to only a few athletes in the world every four years.
For Chamley-Watson, the opening ceremony was one of the most memorable moments of his nearly one-month stay in London.
“My best memory from the Olympics would have to be walking out during the opening ceremony,” he recalled. “I say this because it got surreal when they welcomed the United States of America and I walked out right in front. It was amazing for me to be right in front because I was able to lead out the U.S. right behind our flag bearer. I began to get chills and it really sunk in that I am now officially an Olympian.”
While he still kept his focus on his competition, Gomez-Tanamachi said he also was able to truly understand the real purpose of the games and appreciate the unity of so many countries in one place.
“The Olympics is the time where every country forgets their differences and becomes one,” he said. “The whole purpose of the games is to create a friendly and peaceful vibe among all the countries in the world, and I think they have the right idea.”
Although the main focus in London was the games, there was plenty of downtime for the athletes. Chamley-Watson, a London native, often spent free time visiting his friends and family. Gomez-Tanamachi explored the shopping scene with friends and family. All three competitors said they preferred low-key events that allowed them to continue to prepare for their next round.
Chamley-Watson lost in his first match to Alaaeldin Abouelkassem of Egypt, and Gomez-Tanamachi lost in his second match to Ma Jianefiof China.
“It’s not easy to have a good relationship with someone at the Olympics that competes in the same tournament as you because everyone is focused on winning and that’s the only thing they care about,” Gomez-Tanamachi said. “However, there is always a feeling of mutual respect among competitors, therefore relationships are technically good.”
Aronovich started off strong in the gymnastics competition but a fall during his last event, the vault, kept him from moving on to the all-around finals.
“I was feeling really good and happy after all of the five events,” he said. “After the last event, I was really disappointed since I fell and missed the all-around final. It was a really good day but it finished with a sour note.”
Chamley-Watson had the honor of meeting President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and their wives during a Sept. 14 ceremony that honored Team USA Olympians and Paralympians. The ceremony took place on the White House south lawn.
“The White House ceremony was amazing,” Chamley-Watson said. “It was very cool to be able to meet our president again as well as Joe Biden and his wife. I was able to meet President Obama two years ago when I won the NCAAs. I was able to meet Michelle at the Olympics because she came to our practice to talk.”
The games left a profound impact, in different ways, on all three athletes.
“I gave myself a gift after the Olympics,” Aronovich said. “A tattoo of the rings on my back shoulder.”
Kimberly Valarezo is a Penn State journalism student.