German gymnast Kim Bui has announced her retirement after a long career in women’s gymnastics. But before she hangs up her grips for the final time, she will be competing one last time at the 2022 European Championships which are being held in Germany. It is completely understandable that a gymnast would want to compete for the final time in front of friendly fans. The tactic of a gymnast selecting a meet on home soil as the final competition of her career is far from uncommon.
But what makes Kim Bui’s case significant is that she will not only be competing in front of home crowds, she will be returning to the very atmosphere where Bui produced the greatest win of her career. That competition in question was the 2011 European Championships which was also hosted by Germany. At the 2011 European Championships Kim Bui won the only medal of her career at the Olympics, World Championships, and Continental Championships level.
The 2011 European Championships was not just the highlight of Bui’s career, but one of Germany’s strongest result in women’s artistic gymnastics (WAG) to date. It is an honor in itself for Kim Bui to finish her career in front of a home crowd, but at the 2022 European Championships she will have the additional honor of finalizing her career while being able to relive her great accomplishment from 11 years prior.
The significance of the 2011 European Championships to German WAG history starts with the three legends who represented Germany at this event.
Kim Bui competed for Germany from 2005-present and competed in a German lineup in Group-1 competition (World Championships or Olympics) 11 total times.
Elisabeth Seitz competed for Germany from 2009-present and competed in a German lineup in Group-1 competition 12 total times.
Oksana Chusovitina has competed from 1991-present, but from 2006-2012 to represented Germany and appeared in a Group-1 competition under the German flag on 6 total occasions.
Bui, Seitz, and Chusovitina are three of the greatest examples of longevity in WAG history and coincidentally, they all happened to belong to the same national program. The Bui, Seitz, Chusovitina trio represent three of the most valuable WAGs Germany has ever had due to their presence in so many team lineups. They combined for 29 total appearances for the German program in Group-1 competition.
But at the 2011 European Championships which were held in Berlin, this trio of German gymnasts brought Germany to new heights. Seitz won a silver medal in the All-Around, Chusovitina won a silver on vault, while Bui won a bronze medal on the uneven bars. Before then, neither Germany nor its West German predecessors had won more than a single medal at a European Championships.
Now Germany had three gymnasts walk away with a medal in just a single European Championships.
But the success didn’t end there. Later in the year Bui, Seitz, and Chusovitina all returned to the German lineup for the 2011 World Championships where they led the country to a 6th place finish in the team standings. With the exception of the 1984 boycott, the 2011 World Championships remains the best result Germany has achieved while competing as either “West Germany” or “Germany” since 1952 when the program finished 5th.
Note: Germany participated at the Olympics in 1956-1964 as a “Unified Team” but in WAG only East German teams were sent because they were the stronger program.
Kim Bui’s longevity is legendary. She is a 3x Olympian while having the distinction of participating in four different Olympic quads. Kim Bui made her senior debut in 2005 and was part of an era responsible for raising the profile of Germany from a low ranking program that frequently missed the Olympics, into a notable player that could qualify to Team Finals in any given year.
In the 1970s and for most of the 1980s, West Germany had the strongest WAG program in Western Europe while East Germany was one of the top WAG powers in the world. But starting in 1987 both programs began to free fall. When Germany reunified in 1990, its two WAG programs weren’t in a position to lay the foundation for a new powerful program.
In the 1990s Germany would suffer significant regression, while their Western European rivals were demonstrating tremendous improvement. Even while German Olympic sports as a whole had remained strong in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, in WAG the situation was different.
It was Kim Bui and her generation who pioneered that change into a medal winning program. In 2005 Kim Bui made her first appearance for Germany at the World Championships. It was right around this time that German gymnasts began qualifying to Event Finals, and in some case win medals. In 2008 and 2016 German WAG would succeed in winning medals at the Olympics. The era from 2005-present is where Germany has experienced all of its success under the German tri-color. Coincidently, this is effectively the Kim Bui era as well because it was marked by her continual presence.
Unfortunately, Kim Bui wouldn’t rise to become a highly ranked gymnast. In Bui’s era there were six other German gymnasts who successfully qualified to Event Finals at the Group-1 level, but not Bui herself. But Bui was still one of Germany’s leaders and she proved it in the final years of her career.
When #GymnastAlliance overtook the sport as gymnasts began speaking up about abusive training environments, it was Kim Bui who spoke at the Bundestag, the German equivalent of U.S. Congress or British parliament to raise awareness on the topic.
At the 2021 Olympics Kim and her teammates decided to wear unitards as opposed to the traditional leotard. Their goal was to normalize the concept so that other gymnasts wouldn’t feel discouraged from wearing them. Throughout the year German gymnasts rotated between different types of leotards and unitards. Proving they were wearing leotards not because it was their preferred choice, but because they wanted to demonstrate that gymnasts everywhere had this choice.
The German gymnasts not only succeeded in this goal, but the unitard became one of the most talked about stories of the Olympics. It directly led to the IOC strengthening its “portrayal guidelines” that all television broadcasters must abide by. These guidelines emphasize avoiding camera angles that compromise the athletes such as shots involving their butt or crotch area.
Kim Bui may not have been the best German gymnast of her era, but she could always be relied on to do the right thing, be a leader, and she was a solider contributor to the team score for 17 years. In that time she witnessed Germany rise from a low ranking program, to one that wins Olympic medals and has high hopes for its future.
That future is Helen Kevric, the 14 year old German gymnast who will be competing alongside Kim Bui in the junior division at the European Championships. Helen is only two weeks removed from her success at the European Youth Olympic Festival where she won medals on 6 of 7 events. The 7th event (WAG normally has only six) being a mixed-gender team event. At the 2022 European Championships she has already won the Junior All-Around title, a first in German WAG history.
The presence of Kevric is a symbol of all that Germany has gained in the past two decades and what it will continue to gain in future competitions. It will also serve as an opportunity for Kim Bui to pass the torch to the next generation. But most of all it is hard to ignore the connection between the 2011 European Championships and the 2022 European Championships that were both held on German soil.
It is a rarity for a gymnast to write the ending to her athletic career under such perfect circumstances. After 17 years Kim Bui will compete in one last major competition, in front of friendly crowds, with her teammate from all those years ago (Elisabeth Seitz) competing alongside her, with her heir apparent (Helen Kevric) also present, and doing so while invoking the memory of the 2011 European Championships which was the highlight of her career.
For a gymnast who gave so much to women’s gymnastics, it is the ending Kim Bui deserves.