Mohini Bhardwaj (ਮੋਹਿਨੀ ਭਾਰਦਵਾਜ) (born September 29, 1978) is a retired American gymnast who competed at the 1997 and 2001 World Championships and earned a team silver medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. She is the first Indian-American gymnast, and the second Indian-American athlete overall, ever to medal at the Olympics.
Early Life and Career
Mohini Bhardwaj was born on September 29, 1978, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to parents Indu and Kaushal. She has one younger brother, Arun. Bhardwaj's mother, Indu, is from Russia; her father is from India. Bhardwaj was raised in the Hindu faith, and is vegetarian. Her given name, Mohini, means "illusion" in Hindi. During her gymnastics career, this fact was repeated by commentators in almost every televised competition in which she competed, and eventually became a running joke among gymnastics fans.
Bhardwaj began taking gymnastics classes at the age of four in her hometown of Cincinnati, where she attended Seven Hills School. She excelled in the sport, and, at the age of 13, moved to Orlando to train at Brown's Gymnastics.
At the age of 16, Bhardwaj's coach, Alexander Alexandrov, moved to Houston to open a new facility for Brown's. Bhardwaj followed, without her parents. Living alone in a Texas apartment, she began to struggle, and her gymnastics suffered from long nights of partying, smoking and drinking. At the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials, she finished in 10th place, missing a spot on the team by .075.
Bhardwaj continued training after the Olympics, but at the 1997 U.S. Nationals, NBC commentators noted that she was only competing due to her parents' insistence. In spite of her seeming indifferent, Bhardwaj had a strong showing at Nationals, finishing 3rd in the all-around and easily earning a spot on the American World Championships team. At the 1997 World Championships, Bhardwaj was the only American besides Kristen Maloney to qualify for an individual event final, the vault, where she placed fifth.
Bhardwaj's reputation as a wild child scared off some NCAA recruiters, but Val Kondos, head coach for UCLA, awarded her a full gymnastics scholarship. Her partying continued through her freshman year, prompting Kondos to issue her an ultimatum to remain on the team.
Kondos' faith paid off: by 1999, Bhardwaj had changed her ways and became a key member of the Bruins. Her gymnastics flourished in the college environment, her difficulty on all events increased, and she developed a new artistic style on floor exercise. During her time at UCLA, Bhardwaj earned All-American honors eleven times, earned 23 individual titles, and was the first gymnast from UCLA to be a four-time All-American on the uneven bars. As a senior, she won both the AAI American Award and the prestigious Honda Award.
2001 - 2004
After ending her UCLA career with a new perspective and work ethic, Bhardwaj returned to elite competition. At the 2001 U.S. National Championships, she won the vault title and placed 3rd in the all-around. She was named to the American team for the 2001 World Championships in Ghent, Belgium, where she contributed to the U.S. squad's bronze medal, placed 18th in the all-around and 7th in the vault event final.
In 2002, however, Bhardwaj suffered a dislocated elbow, an injury so serious that she retired for a year before deciding to return to training in 2003. Off the national team and running low on funds, Bhardwaj found herself taking odd jobs, such as waitressing and delivering pizzas, to pay for her gymnastics training and personal expenses. By 2004 she was in debt and could not afford to attend the U.S. Olympic Trials and other competitions. Baywatch star Pamela Anderson learned of Bhardwaj's challenges when she purchased a raffle ticket on her behalf, became a personal supporter, and gave the gymnast a generous $20,000 grant to support her training expenses.
At the 2004 Nationals, Bhardwaj placed a disappointing 12th in the all-around, just snagging the final spot in the Olympic Trials when Ashley Postell fell on bars, effectively handing her spot to Mohini. But Bhardwaj went on to make the most of her chance, earning sixth place at the Trials and earning an invitation to the subsequent closed-door selection camp at the Karolyi ranch. There she impressed national team coordinator Martha Karolyi and the other selectors enough to not only earn a place on the team, but to be named its captain. Her strength and consistency on vault were expected to add balance to a team already formidable on beam and bars, but at the Athens Games she placed a disappointing 20th on vault and failed to qualify for the event final. She did qualify for the floor final but finished sixth. Had competed with a routine with a start value of 10 instead of the 9.7 she received, she would have won a medal. She finished eighth in qualifying for the all-around competition behind teammates Carly Patterson (1st) and Courtney Kupets (4th), and would easily have been among the 24 to make the final; however, since each team could send just two gymnasts, she became the only competitor finishing in the top ten to not make the all-around finals.
For her Olympic achievements, Bhardwaj was named the India Abroad Person of the Year for 2004.
After the Olympics, Bhwardwaj joined the other members of the Olympic team on a national exhibition tour. She attempted to continue competing into 2005, and was originally selected for the American Cup in January 2005, but had insufficient training time to be ready and withdrew. She eventually retired from competitive gymnastics later in 2005, at the age of 26.
Bhardwaj currently works as a coach at Cascade All Star Gymnastics in Bend, Oregon. She is married to Jeff Barry, a United States Marine, and welcomed a son in 2009.
|Junior U.S. Classic||15|
|Junior National Championships||10|
|U.S. Olympic Festival||7||6||5|
|Puerto Rico International Gymnastics Cup||2nd||3rd|
|U.S. Olympic Festival||5||2nd||2nd|
|International Mixed Pairs||3rd|
|Atlanta Gymnastics Invitational||8||1st|
|Pacific Alliance Championships||1st||1st||1st||2nd||3rd||2nd|
|U.S. Olympic Trials||10|
|1997||John Hancock Championships||3rd||3rd||8||10||5|
|Lausanne World Championships||6||5|
|Reese’s Gymnastics Cup||8|
|Senior Pan American Championships||1st||2nd||5|
|Ghent World Championships||3rd||18||7|
|U.S. Olympic Trials||6||2nd|
|Athens Olympic Games||2nd||6|
1997- "Instruments of the Darkness" by Prodigy
2001- "Distorted" by Benoit Jutras
2001- "Ojos Asi" by Shakira