From Suffolk to the World: From Suffolk to the Olympics and beyond

Published 7:24 pm Friday, April 21, 2023

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By Matthew Hatfield

Contributing writer

There are hometown legends from Suffolk in a variety of sports – basketball, football, track and field to name a few.  But in a sport like gymnastics, is it imaginable? Hope Spivey made it possible.

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Spivey helped put USA Gymnastics on the map, where others – such as Virginia Beach native Gabby Douglas – have garnered worldwide acclaim and cashed in with earnings of multi-million dollars. For her, it was a much different era.

As a youth, Spivey cut her teeth, so to speak, at Suffolk’s Birdsong Recreation Center and the Franklin YMCA.  At the age of 13, she took a leap of faith with her parents allowing her to move to Allentown, Pennsylvania to train for the Olympics. That’s when the blossoming process began to unfold.

Spivey managed to win a bronze medal in all-around competition at the U.S. Nationals Championship in 1985. Strong finishes in various competitions enabled her to get more recognition and gain steam. She would set a record score at the Pan American games as a member of the gold medal winning team for the U.S.

Although she did not get a medal finish – placing fourth – Spivey got to perform on the grand stage in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Her career at that point had officially taken off and reached a new level.

Ultimately, Spivey would return to Suffolk, enrolling at Forest Glen High as a senior before accepting a scholarship offer at the University of Georgia. Now known for winning titles in football, Georgia saw Spivey win four National Championships with the SEC program. Spivey received 1994 SEC Athlete of the Year, and maybe even more impressive than that and being tabbed an All-American on 11 occasions was the fact she was awarded 27 perfect scores of 10.0 – still an NCAA all-time record.

At the 1996 Olympic games, Spivey had the honor of carrying the torch through Athens on its way to Atlanta.  No other athlete from the Commonwealth received that privilege.

In a February 2015 News-Herald article, Spivey said enabling her to have the career she did first and foremost would be the talent that God had given her and the desire to be the best she could be,” 

“But running right behind that would be my family, my parents, being willing to sacrifice things in order to make those dreams happen, not getting caught up in things and allowing the coaches to do the coaching,” she said in the 2015 story.

For all her accomplishments, Spivey was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 2004 and Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.

“Obviously there are great athletes in Georgia, and for them to still recognize the impact that I’ve had on the state in athletics, it really means a great deal,” Spivey told the News-Herald in 2015.

In expressing what she considers to be her primary career accomplishments, she told the News-Herald, “Being a 1988 U.S. Olympian is obviously a huge highlight.”

But the achievements she is proudest of came between 1991 and 1994 when she was a Gym Dog.

“You can’t minimize the accomplishment of being on an Olympic team, but college gymnastics was an extension of that,” she said in 2015, noting the university was able to continue that Olympic high.

She and the Gym Dogs “got a lot of attention and a lot of people — over 10,000 people — would come and watch our meets,” Spivey said. “It was just such a joy to be able to perform for people that truly got behind us and were with us through thick and thin, and those are memories that last a lifetime.”