The big coup is perfect: The German gymnasts win bronze in the team. First time ever. It's a particularly emotional day for "gymnastics grandma" Kim Bui. It is the last team competition for the 33-year-old who is retiring. The "Bui-Bande" delivers in full.
Suddenly the tears flow. Kim Bui is still trying to suppress her, but Elisabeth Seitz is already sobbing next to her and can no longer contain herself. In front of the assembled press, the two gymnasts lie in each other's arms in the mixed zone of the Munich Olympic Hall. The other three gymnasts on the team, Sarah Voss, Pauline Schäfer-Betz and Emma Malewski, also have tears in their eyes. It is a brief moment of sadness on such a great and successful day. The German women won historic bronze as a team at the European Championships, the first ever medal for a women's team in the history of German gymnastics.
But in this moment of pure joy and euphoria, Seitz and Bui are reminded that they will never do gymnastics together again. Bui resigns, at the age of 33 she puts an end to high-performance sport, completely, also in the Bundesliga. At MTV Stuttgart, Seitz also loses her teammate in the club. "Now we'll do that first thing tomorrow," says Seitz, speaking of their last joint final on the uneven bars, for which both were able to qualify. "Then I'll be on vacation for a few days and then I'll come back and then the big awakening will come. I don't know. I'll definitely come into the hall and then Kimi won't sit there anymore," said Seitz with tears.
Bui tries to comfort her friend: "Of course I'll come and visit Elli." And promises: "Of course I will somehow remain loyal to the gymnastics world." Her biography will be published in March next year, she also announced.
Her life, it is that of a thoroughbred gymnast, whose horizon does not end at the exit from the gym. The daughter of a Vietnamese and a Laotian, who was born in Tübingen, did her master's degree at the University of Stuttgart in 2020. At the Institute for Cell Biology, she researched cancer therapy, where she developed special amino acids that kill cancer cells. She also did an internship at a medical technology company, where she specialized in blood purification processes. In addition, she did gymnastics for 17 years in the German national team.
When she first took part in the 2005 World Cup in Melbourne, her current teammate Malewski was just one year old. Now they are standing together on the podium in Munich, the medals around their necks, which they keep holding and looking at in disbelief in the mixed zone, shaking their heads and grinning at each other. Not all team members of the self-proclaimed "Bui Gang" do gymnastics on all four devices, three of the five are in action. Bui, however, is once again really challenged in her last team competition, goes to the uneven bars, does gymnastics on the floor and on the vault. She masters all three tasks skillfully.
After her floor exercise, there are even standing ovations from the audience, the reticent 33-year-old accepts the loud cheering with a happy wave, but remains true to herself and rather quiet, while Voss whips the audience on again. At the jump, the last piece of equipment for the German squad, Bui bursts out by her standards, she throws her arms up in celebration, it's almost an emotional outburst.
So there they are in their blue and sparkly legless short suits that they chose as their team attire today. The unitard, not the leotard they revolutionized gymnastics with. "It's about feeling good. We want to show that women, everyone should decide for themselves what to wear," explained Seitz last year, when the Germans wore a long-legged suit for the first time at the European Championships started. They had received worldwide attention - and a lot of applause. "Germany's gymnasts spoke out against the sexualization of the sport by wearing one-piece suits instead of the traditional bikini leotards at the Tokyo Olympics," the US magazine People wrote.
"It's a day-to-day decision. It depends on how we feel and what we want. We decide what to wear on the day of the competition," Seitz explained during the Olympic Games. This Saturday in Munich they felt better for a moment - and showed a strong performance, while the competitors, for example from France, stumbled.
It is Kim Bui's second medal at the European Championships, having already won bronze in 2011 in the individual event on uneven bars. She took part much more often, eleven European Championships, eight World Championships, was at the Olympic Games in 2012, 2016 and 2021, missed participation in 2008 by just 0.001 points and had to watch as a substitute gymnast for the Germans. Not even cruciate ligament ruptures in 2010 (left) and 2015 (right) kept her from her sport.
As a longtime spokeswoman for athletes, she campaigned for the interests of her sport and for her teammates. As in the gymnastics scandal in Chemnitz, which Schäfer-Betz made public in 2020. It's about psychological violence, abuse of power and illegal administration of drugs. Injections from syringes with unknown contents, allegations of obesity and subsequent eating disorders, Chemnitz trainer Gabriele Frehse has to go. In 2021, Bui speaks before the Sports Committee of the Bundestag, praises the uncovering of the scandal and publicly hopes that children and young people will sooner in the future have the courage to make such grievances public immediately and not endure them for years.
"Significantly, I'm not as shocked by the incidents as some outsiders, because unfortunately they are part of our gymnastics reality," she said, speaking of a "system that covers serious misconduct by those responsible so that sporting goals can be achieved". Her shocking conclusion last year: "Chemnitz seems to be just the tip of the iceberg."
She has experienced everything in gymnastics, not only the bad but also the good sides of gymnastics. "She's fantastic," said new women's head coach Gerben Wiersma. The Dutchman praises the professionalism of his oldest gymnast. "On the one hand, I'm really happy for her that she decided to stop. Because it's great that a gymnast can decide for herself when to stop. On the other hand, as the national coach, she's still the big thing for me Role model for other gymnasts and she's still putting in fantastic scores so I have mixed feelings." But nobody tried to stop her from retiring, says Bui, who thanks the coaches for this respect.
Because one thing is certain: the "Grande Dame" is stepping down. With a medal, a historical one at that. In front of a home audience in Munich, which she celebrates ecstatically with standing ovations. It's a perfect ending. But it's not the end. "The Bui gang lives on," says Schäfer-Betz.