It's been a strange but wonderful week for my sister, Elsa García. Of course there is the excitement of being in London and competing in the Olympic Games, and representing our country, Mexico. And then there was the unexpected reaction to her choice of music in competition. You see, my sister is the gymnast who performed to The Legend of Zelda's theme on Wednesday.
Elsa didn't make it to the final rounds because of a last-minute injury to both hands that kept her from competing at her best. But even if she couldn't collect hearts or gems or get a healing potion to refill her health bar, gamers' tweets of support and the stories about her music choice have definitely made it a memorable time for her.
The overwhelming energy from the gaming community isn't something she was expecting. Overnight she went from the best gymnast Mexico has ever had to poster child for blending beautiful athleticism and awesome video game soundtrack music.
"I'm surprised that so many people have recognized the song," she said to me. "It's a win-win situation. I like the fact that gamers want more people to recognize beautiful game soundtracks and I want more people to get involved in gymnastics."
Choosing her music was part of a long love affair Elsa has with using official soundtracks for her floor exercise. The music of the films Chicago, Chocolat and The Counterfeiters have all been part of her floor routines, but this is the first time that she chose music from a video game. I always try to help chose her music, but for the most part my eclectic suggestions make her laugh and get cast aside. This time it was different.
"This year I asked for my sister's help, because I was looking for a change of music for my floor routine and I wanted it to be something really special and different," she said.
After playing different versions of songs from Star Wars, Star Trek and Cirque du Soleil, some weird guitar and classical-techno versions, I was about to give up. I played Lindsey Sterling's "Zelda Medley" for her as a last resort. She loved it.
"At first I didn't recognize it but it sounded so familiar," she said. "Then it kinda grew on me and I loved the violin interpretation and how I could work my gymnastics styling with that kind of music."
I pointed out it was music from the game that had taken up so many hours of our childhood and I saw her face light up with a huge smile through Skype.
"I thought of Link running around through the forest, mountains, caves, and how agile he is, it was funny to think that I was doing something similar but in my own way," Elsa said. "I liked what it reminded me of: the whole concept of never giving up on my quest."
And she didn't. With bruised and swollen fingers, Elsa performed her floor exercise beautifully and made her country (and Koji Kondo, the original composer of the Zelda theme) proud. It was a beautiful salute to a generation that grew up accompanying Link and Navi in their adventures.
As a world-class athlete, training eight hours a day hasn't allowed her to enjoy video games as much as she would like, but they have always been a constant part of her life.
In uniform for the Olympics.
When we were young, our father would let us play his old Intellivision. We would spend long hours over the weekend playing Dungeons & Dragons or Snafu, a snake game that later became popular on 1990s cell phones.
Playing video games was a family activity because we are the only girls in a group of six cousins, four of them boys, who loved gaming. They were masters of racing games, shooting games and action-packed adventures so we had to learn how to play (and sometimes beat them) or be left out of the fun.
In primary school we begged our parents for a Super Nintendo of our own. Oh, happy days! We would lose ourselves playing Mario Kart, The Lion King, Toy Story, Maui Malard (yes we loved Disney games)
and even a bit of Smash Bros. (Editor's Note: After checking with Laura, it became clear that she and Elsa played Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64. The story now reflects this information.) By this time, Elsa had already started to choose her path as a gymnast. But in between training sessions or over weekends, we could still chill out just us or with friends and have a fierce round of Mario Kart.
By the time the Nintendo 64 came out, we had worn out our little Super Nintendo and opted for a change. We played Smash Bros on it. But there was the one game we attempted to play through to the end: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. With the help of our cousins who talked us through levels when we were stuck, we eventually completed it. We loved running through Kokiri forest with Navi flying around, learning new tunes to play with the ocarina and eventually defeating Ganondorf.
Elsa had to focus more on her training as time went by, but we always found time to sit for a couple of rounds of Mario Kart or move forward a level in Zelda. We also discovered a funny little farming game called Harvest Moon and devoted hours to building our farm, tending to our cattle, rebuilding our house and growing weird types of produce.
After our time with the Nintendo 64, Elsa devoted her life to gymnastics. She was driven to become the best and to represent Mexico at the Olympic Games. This was obviously a time consuming goal, but even then, gaming was not completely out of her life. Being an international gymnast requires a lot of travel, and my sister got a Nintendo DS. Games would help time go faster while she waited for a plane or in between workout sessions.
For 12 years, she has made gymnastics her life and it has definitely paid off. She has won 37 gold medals in the Mexican National Olympics. She was the youngest ever to win the All Around title in the Central American and Caribbean Games in 2002, a title she defended in 2006. Between 2007 and 2009, she won 12 World Cup Medals. In 2009, she was the only Mexican gymnast ever to be honored with the prestigious Longines Prize, awarded for being the "most elegant gymnast in the world".
The toughest part of her training is getting up each day in the morning. Being an Olympic gymnast is a full time job. It starts with a morning training session from 8 a.m. to noon, then it's off to physical therapy for sore muscles and maybe a quick round of Mario Kart on the DS while she waits.
After that, she heads home for some food and rest and leaves again by 4 p.m. to train until 7 or 8. She's so tired when she gets done she practically collapses on her bed to rest up for the next day and start it all over again.
Elsa García Rodriguez Blancas made lots of fans with video gamers when she chose a violin arrangement of the Legend of Zelda theme for her floor exercise music. Her sister, Laura, recommended it.
"Gymnastics is a sport where we strive for perfection in every movement," she says. "So we have to do our skills over and over again until they are close to perfect, because there´s always something we can better."
This has been her life: long hard hours, painful injuries, bad press, good press, competitions, travelling, interviews, commercials, videos, speaking engagements, medal ceremonies. All in a day's work.
Now, her iPod Touch and iPhone go wherever she goes. Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies helps take the edge off or forget about the pain if she is physical therapy for an injury.
Lately, her boyfriend (a runner competing in the 200 meters in track) has tried to get her to play Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed on the PlayStation 3, but she says she has "failed to do so in a proper or even normal way". But when it comes to playing Marvel vs Capcom or Little Big Planet Elsa is a force to be reckoned with.
I don't get to see her much because she is still a virtual hostage at the Olympic Village. It's a shrine to physical perfection and few get to venture inside. So I have to wait and hope to see her after she's done training and getting physical therapy. I could only talk to her for a little while, but as we said our goodbyes, Elsa gave me a final message:
Goofing around at the Olympic Village with a statue of one of the Games' mascots.
"I want to thank everyone who has not only noticed me for my work and recently for my music, but also chose to notice the love I have for my sport and my country," she said. "I appreciate your support hope you enjoyed my performance. I wish I could have done better, but due to three injured fingers on both hands I was not at my best. I leave with a life experience of these Olympic Games and already have my mind set for Rio 2016.
"I am glad to have found new friends in the gaming community," she said. "It feels great to have your support. When I change my floor routine in the future I will gladly accept musical suggestions. All I can say is I hope that everyone can find a passion like I found gymnastics and work hard for your dreams no matter what."
Laura García Rodriguez Blancas is a freelance multimedia journalist from Monterrey, Mexico.
Images by Laura García Rodriguez Blancas