At Rio 2016, French artistic gymnast Samir Ait Said faced every athlete’s worst nightmare: injury at the Olympic Games. While attempting his difficult Tsukahara double pike vault, Ait Said went crooked in the air. He came up short of rotation.
A crack resonated throughout the Rio Olympic Arena.
Ait Said, who stars in the latest episode of the original series ‘What Moves Me,' which is now available to watch on Olympic Channel, had suffered a gruesome compound fracture of his left tibia.
"I just made sure I stayed focused on the routine I was about to do. It's always a shame when there's an injury. This sport is absolutely brutal," said American champion Sam Mikulak, who had the difficult to task of following Ait Said on the event that day.
"To go down like that at the Olympic Games is a horrible, horrible thing. But you still have to stay focused, get in the zone and do the gymnastics you came out here to do."
But four years on, Ait Said has recovered and has his sights set on a Tokyo 2020 triumph.
A personal look at COVID for Ait Said
Like everyone with dreams of competing at Tokyo 2020, Ait Said had to make adjustments to training when the pandemic hit. He found help in the form of neighbours willing to let him use part of their garden as a makeshift training center.
“I set up a small gym in [their] garden,” Ait Said told Olympic Channel. “They’re a retired couple who are almost 80. They allowed me to have a tiny part of their garden to set up some mats, rings, weights.
“So while waiting for the announcement of postponing the Olympic Games, I trained there every day, even twice a day.”
Ait Said says that training helped him maintain some level of fitness, but “it’s not the same as when we’re in the gym training 30 hours a week.”
On a personal level, the pandemic has hit home in that his partner is a nurse.
“I saw what it’s like to be an essential worker,” he said. “I really wanted to project myself, project my family, protect those who are out there taking care of everybody because it’s not easy.”
Samir Fueled by Stuttgart triumph
Ait Said is used to doing things that aren’t easy.
Simply returning to the sport following his accident in Rio would have been impressive enough, but he’s done more than just that. He’s proven he’s once again among the world’s greatest, having finished third on the still rings at the 2019 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.
That bronze medal also served as his ticket to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“[That] medal means a lot to me, emotionally, because I went through a lot of difficult times, a lot of pain,” said Ait Said. “The day after my operation in Rio, I promised my family and all the people around me that I would be there in Tokyo… so it was a relief.
“It was a moment of pride because it shows when there’s a will, there’s a way.”
So, Ait Said’s journey back to the Olympic Games continues even if it’s in ways he – and no one else – could have foreseen. He told Olympic Channel that he is targeting December’s European Championships in Turkey.
“Preparations are starting,” he said of the Europeans. “We are working hard, determined to go for another European medal.”
Though with Russia and Belgium recently withdrawing from the event, along with new COVID-19 restrictions going into place in France, the fate of that competition hangs in the balance. But regardless, Ait Said his 2019 World bronze medal on the still rings renewed his faith in his ability.
“It really showed me that I was even more capable of bringing home and Olympic medal,” said Ait Said. “It gave me even more confidence and showed me how lucky I was to even be able to fight for an Olympic title.”
And one has to wonder if, after all he’s been through, there is something of which Ait Said isn’t capable.