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September 2, 2014

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Former Henderson gymnast awarded Olympic medal — 10 years after games

Tasha Schwikert and the 2000 Olympics gymnastics team awarded bronze medal after Chinese team disqualified

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Courtesy UCLA

Tasha Schwikert, shown here with the UCLA gymnastics team, competed in the 2000 Olympics and found out Wednesday that she won the bronze medal after the Chinese team was disqualified for using an underage athlete.

Tasha Schwikert 2000 Olympics

Tasha Schwikert 2000 Olympics

Tasha Schwikert 2000 Olympics

The collection of medals Tasha Schwikert won during her illustrious gymnastics career is prominently displayed at her home gym, GymCats in Henderson.

There is a duplicate silver medal from when she was an alternate on the 2004 Olympic team during the Athens Games. And a gold medal from the 2003 World Championship team.

Because she retired from Elite international competition six years ago and wrapped up her college career at UCLA in 2008, the display appeared complete.

Then, Schwikert received a phone call at her Los Angeles-area home Wednesday with some unexpected news.

Cassie Rice, her longtime coach at GymCats, was on the other end with the surprise: Congratulations! Along with your teammates, you’re a 2000 Olympics bronze medalist!

The International Olympic Committee announced Wednesday that the bronze-medal winning Chinese gymnastics team in Sydney 10 years ago would be stripped of its medal for using an underage athlete. Instead, the Americans, buoyed by a standout performance by then-15-year-old Schwikert, would be awarded the bronze. For her three exercises, Schwikert scored 28.625 points out of a possible 30 in the final round.

Imagine being awarded a Super Bowl title, World Series championship or other athletic achievement a decade after the event. It’s a feeling Schwikert, now 25, was trying to comprehend Wednesday.

“It was one of the weirdest feelings ever,” she said. “As excited as I was, it’s been 10 years. It was definitely anticlimactic. We had a really good team in 2000, and we worked really hard. We deserved to be recognized after all of these years.”

The Olympics’ executive board determined China’s Dong Fangxiao was 14 during the games. Competitors must turn 16 during the Olympic year to be eligible. Schwikert, for instance, was 15 when she competed, but turned 16 in November 2000.

“This is just amazing. How can you put it into words?” Rice said of the decision. “After all of these years, that was the last call I expected to get.”

Schwikert placed ninth in the U.S. Olympic trials in 2000 and was originally slated to be an alternate on the team. But after another competitor was injured, she was elevated to a spot on the roster and turned in one of the team’s top performances.

She was an eight-year member of the national team, highlighted by being a two-time U.S. senior national all-around champion, captain of the 2003 gold medal-winning world championship team and gold medalist in the all-around at the 2001 Pan-American Games.

It was her performance in Sydney, however, that stands out. A surprise addition to the team, Schwikert scored 9.675 points on the uneven bars, 9.600 on the floor routine and 9.350 on the balance beam.

“That launched her into the national spotlight,” said Rice, who accompanied Schwikert to the Sydney Olympics and helped her prepare in the practice area before competition.

Schwikert left international competition after the 2004 season to attend UCLA, where she was the 2005 and 2008 NCAA all-around champion.

Not in her wildest dreams did she expect to win another medal, let alone an Olympic medal.

“It’s amazing to sit here and think of what just happened,” she said. “This is something that probably has never happened in history. Getting awarded a medal after 10 years is unheard of.”

Schwikert, two years removed from competition, is still involved in the sport. Along with her sister, former UCLA and national team gymnast Jordan Schwikert, she does gymnastic stunts for the ABC Family show “Make It or Break It.”

“I’m not in the shape I used to be, but if I started training again, I could get back to college-level gymnastics,” she said.

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