Alicia Quinn still remembers the letters and emails she received after the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
It was just after the U.S. gymnastics team took silver in the team final. By any measure, a silver medal is something that most athletes would be very proud to have. However, Quinn — then known as Alicia Sacramone — fell during both the beam and floor exercise, and the U.S. lost to China by 2.375 points.
“People would go through the Brown [University] email thing to search my email out and send an email saying, like, ‘YOU SINGLE-HANDEDLY RUINED AMERICA!’ ” Quinn told Newsday in April. “I was like, ‘There’s a debt crisis, there’s all these other things wrong with America, but sure, yup, definitely my fault, I definitely ruined America!’”
But inside, Quinn did feel a sense of blame. A sense that she did indeed cost her team — one she described as “one of the top three that we’ve had” — a shot at Olympic gold.
It’s a feeling she still harbors to this day.
“I personally still think I’m to blame for that silver medal,” said Quinn, who was captain of that U.S. squad in Beijing. “I fell, and that’s a big part of what happened with the score and why we didn’t win first place. But it was just, you know, mistakes happen anytime. It could be something you’ve prepared for your whole life, you’ve trained well, everything was going to plan, and it’s just kind of a fluke.”
But instead of letting the falls define her, Quinn quickly began the process of moving past them. The long road back started, ironically enough, with a step away from the gym. Quinn took a hiatus from gymnastics in February 2009 in an attempt to live a more normal life — one that didn’t involve hours of training.
“I kind of just went and stepped away from gymnastics altogether,” Quinn said. “I didn’t work out, I didn’t do anything. I just kind of went, lived with my brother and just tried to experience life outside of the gym.”
Quinn returned to the mat in August 2009 with what she called “better perspective.” She wanted to rewrite her story and, eventually, walk away from the sport on her own terms.
Said Quinn: “I was like, ‘If this is going to be done, I’m going to be proud of what I did.’ ”
Once she started training, Quinn said, “it came back a little easier than I thought it would” — and it showed in competition. She took gold on the vault and silver in the team final at the world gymnastics championships in August 2010, one year after her return. She earned one more gold medal as a member of the 2011 world champion U.S. team — her 10th world championship medal, at the time the most ever for an American female gymnast — despite rehabbing a torn Achilles tendon. She competed at the trials for the 2012 London Olympics, finished second on the vault and balance beam, then retired just as she had hoped to — on her own terms.
“I was excited to make that world championship team in 2010 and get a gold medal and then returning for Olympic trials and everything that followed,” Quinn said of her return.
Quinn is expecting her first child with her husband, former NFL quarterback Brady Quinn, five days after the Opening Ceremony for the 2016 Rio Olympics. She knows that what she learned from those fateful falls in Beijing — and how she responded afterward — will be something she can pass on to her child.
“It taught me a lot of life lessons,” she said. “It taught me how to be a good athlete, but it’s also teaching me how to be a good person and hopefully a good parent, to help raise our kid that it’s not all about winning, but how you conduct yourself in the face of adversity that really matters.”