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Jamaican Gymnast Danusia Francis Makes Olympic Dream Come True

The 27-year-old performed on the uneven bars Sunday with a torn ACL and scored the highest execution score of the day.

TOKYO — Perhaps no one at the Ariake Gymnastics Center on Sunday was happier than the person who finished last.

Danusia Francis, representing Jamaica, had desperately wanted to be an Olympian since she was a six-year-old after watching the Sydney Games. She was an alternate for Great Britain in 2012, and although she earned Jamaica’s spot in ’16, the team selected someone else.

Francis, now 27, feared another heartbreak. But she pushed forward and qualified for Tokyo at the ’19 world championships. She knew she would not be a medal contender here. But she dreamed of performing alongside Olympians, living in the Olympic Village, tattooing the Olympic rings on her wrist. She just wanted the experience.

Then, on Friday, she learned she had torn her left ACL.

She had to withdraw from competition in the balance beam, the vault and the floor exercise. But on Sunday, with her left knee bandaged, she mounted the lower of the uneven bars, performed two toe-ons, and gently dismounted. She was beaming the whole time.

“It was a really special moment,” she said afterward. “Not everything I dreamed of, but definitely a huge success for what I can manage.”

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As recently as Sunday morning, she had hoped to perform her whole bars routine, albeit without a real dismount, as she had at podium training on Friday. But doctors convinced her that she could do further damage, so she scrapped that idea. She worried that she might not really be an Olympian without the whole routine, though.

Then she called her family and told them what she had planned. You’re an Olympian, they told her. She arrived at the facility and told her fellow Olympians. You’re an Olympian, they said.

So she dressed in her black leotard and wrapped her left knee. As she strode to the uneven bars, she heard Simone Biles cheering for her. After Francis finished, Gabriela Sasnal of Poland pulled her into a hug.

“They’ve seen me all week, and to have that respect from my fellow gymnasts, it’s amazing,” she said. “To hear from them, as well as all the people that love me, is enough, you know?”

She apologized to the judges afterward. They did not seem offended: They took 6.5 points from her for a variety of infractions and gave her only a 0.5 difficulty score, which put her in last place, but her 9.033 execution score was the highest of the day on any apparatus.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions mean that Francis must leave within 48 hours. She bought “half the merchandise store,” she said, and she’s taking everything else she can, down to her bedding. But her dream came true. She got to perform alongside Olympians and live in the Olympic Village. And when she gets home, she said, the first thing she will do is get that tattoo.

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