When Suffolk sent Hope to the Olympics

Published 9:14 pm Wednesday, February 12, 2014

By Frank Roberts

I was thinking recently about Suffolk’s headline-making contribution to the Olympics.

Hope Spivey. Remember her? The year was 1988, the place was Seoul. Her story could be headlined: Local girl makes good — very good.

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I got to know her and enjoyed the acquaintance. She was modest, though she had good reason to tilt her little nose skyward.

Like most of the young ladies who bounce around in gymnastics, she was minute-sized. Just 4 feet 9 inches. Gabby Douglas of Virginia Beach made it all the way to 4 feet 11 inches — a gym giant.

Making it to the Olympics is the dream of many, the accomplishment of few. For Hope, it was prefaced by 11 grueling years before the climb to the top actually took her there. Train, train, train.

The training paid off in spades with a trip to the Olympics and an outstanding career at the University of Georgia from ‘91 to ‘94, when the Peach State’s Bulldogs won four gymnastic Southeastern Conference championships. She became an 11-time All-American.

Our gal was named the top collegiate gymnast in the U.S. after finishing first in the all-around vault and floor exercises. In a 10-year span, she earned 27 perfect scores.

Also, she was a member of our country’s gymnastics team that won the Pan-American Games championship in 1987.

She trained at the Birdsong Recreation Center and later with the prestigious Parkettes in Allentown, Pa. The newspaper there, the Morning Call, quoted Hope’s mom as saying that Birdsong’s equipment was “secondhand,” so Hope continued her area training in Franklin.

These days, the former pupil is a teacher, training others, including her 8-year-old daughter, Kristina (preparing for the 2020 Olympics?) Mom’s place of business is Spivey’s Gymnastics & Tumbling International in Dulles.

Hope, who was born in Norfolk is, nevertheless, our hometown heroine. She was raised in western Suffolk and began training here when she was 7, continuing her training with the well-respected Parkettes in Allentown, where she attended Allentown Central High. She spent three years working with the U.S. Senior National Team.

What led her to the Olympics? Constantly finding herself in the top five of major U.S. competitions.

And Hope did it the hard way. In gymspeak — most of her competitors used double twists and several double backs. Her floor exercises were harder — a double layout, double back, and a full-twisting double back.

Much credit for her success goes to Suffolk civic organizations like the Women’s Garden Club and the Fraternal Order of Police, which raised about $3,000 to get her to Allentown to work with the Parkettes.

Dad, David, spent about $40,000 for that proper training — an investment that paid off handsomely.

Here is some Hope history: In the Olympic Trials, she finished third, one of three non-Karolyi gymnasts to finish top eight. (Bela Karolyi is credited with the success of Nadia Comaneci, Mary Lou Retton, Kerri Strug, and others. He has coached nine Olympic champions, 15 world champions, 16 European medalists, and six U. S. national champions.)

Following the Olympics, Hope received that University of Georgia scholarship, eventually winning vault, and floor, all-around national titles. In ‘93 she represented the U.S. at the World University Games in Buffalo.

Her floor routine is still the object of admiration. At one point she would dance forward, then she and the music would stop. The music would re-start, but play in reverse, and she would follow.

In Seoul, she could not compete in the finals, because only three gymnasts from each country could qualify. The U.S. high scorers were Brandy Johnson, Phoebe Mills and Kelly Garrison-Steves. There was talk about a technical difficulty hurting Hope.

Hope’s hope has never been dashed. She made the United States, and the city of Suffolk, very proud.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at froberts73@embarqmail.com.