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Stamford Gymnasts Watch U.S. Women Win Gold

STAMFORD, Conn. – Girls at Arena Gymnastics in Stamford transitioned from athletes to spectators Tuesday to watch the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team perform at the Summer Olympics.

The reprieve from the workout was worth it for the Arena girls, who watched the United States win its first gold medal in 16 years in women’s gymnastics. The U.S. won the gold by a huge margin with Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney. The United States won by more than five points. Russia took silver, and Romania bronze.

“I’ve got chills that I can’t explain,’’ said Stamford’s Kate McGrath, 16, who was born in the year the U.S. last won Olympic gold. “I can’t even imagine what they feel right now.”

About 30 girls from Arena painted their faces red, white and blue, wore U.S. colors and waved U.S. flags to show support for their Olympics counterparts. They watched nervously as the Americans competed on their routines, alternating hushed tones with celebratory claps when U.S. team members successfully completed a skill.

“I want to back on the beam right now and work at it,’’ McGrath said. “Just watching them inspires me to do my best.”

Arena coach Laurie DeFrancesco set up a monitor to watch a live feed of the competition. Some girls sat rapt while others checked smart phones for even more instantaneous feedback. The team normally practices during the morning, but DeFrancesco had the girls run through a brief workout before tuning in to the Games.

“They were excited,’’ DeFrancesco said. “I knew I would be distracted, knowing it was going on live. By the time it’s on television at night, we already know what happens. And it’s on so late, a lot of these girls can’t stay up to watch. I wanted them to live it. I wanted them to feel the pressure and the excitement as it was happening.”

Arena is one of the most enduring gymnastics centers in Fairfield County. DeFrancesco and her husband, Frank, who have been training gymnasts in Stamford since 1982, moved into their Hope Street facility in 1993. Arena’s Elissa Solomon, a June graduate of Ridgefield High, will begin her career with a gymnastics scholarship at the University of New Hampshire in the fall while New Canaan’s Caroline Fitzpatrick qualified for the Level 10 Junior Olympics and won two titles at the Level 9 Eastern Nationals in 2011.

Tuesday, all of the girls got to vicariously taste Olympic success with the U.S. team members. “Every day, I wonder what I would do if I was in the same position,’’ McGrath said. “I feel so happy for them.”

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