As a world-class gymnast and Olympian, Bhavsar earned a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics with the U.S. team in Artistic Gymnastics. The journey to that award-ceremony podium in China started over 20 years before, back in Texas. Growing up outside of Houston, Bhavsar was an active kid who had that “monkey gene,” as he puts it, and climbed all over the house. His dad had a little bit of experience with gymnastics in India, where he immigrated from, and Raj was placed in gymnastics class at the age of four.
Bhavsar says, “From ages four all the way through 12, I did gymnastics, but I also did some other sports along the way. Doing other sports solidified for me that gymnastics was what I wanted to do.” What he loved about it then is what he loves about gymnastics now — “It’s the feeling of doing the skills.” One of his legacies as a gymnast is the creation of two new skills, on the still rings and on the parallel bars, both referred to as “The Bhavsar.” Watch “The Bhavsar” in action on the parallel bars, being performed for the first time in competition in 2009 in Russia by Raj, in this video:
Trying out for the Olympics twice, for 2004 and 2008, and being selected as an alternate both times, was part of the reality of Bhavsar’s path to becoming a Olympic winner, if not exactly the path he had dreamed of when he was younger. He had worked nearly his entire life up to that point toward the dream of competing at the Olympics, but when he found out he was an alternate for the 2004 team, he says “my world came crashing down…I was incredibly angry.” For a while, he left the sport despite his love for it.
In the interview with South Asian Stories, Bhavsar shares details about the tough questions he asked, the books he read, and the important mental and physical work, including the cross-training tool of hot yoga — all of which he used to to powerfully transform himself prior to the 2008 Olympic trials. At the trials, he was yet again named an alternate. During the weeks after the trials, Bhavsar was seriously considering refusing the position of alternate, and he tells how an important conversation with his dad changed how he thought. Just in time too — as a spot would come to open up on the team after gymnast Paul Hamm suffered an injury and withdrew.
To hear more of that story in Bhavsar’s own words, and more on the surreal experience of going to the Olympics in Beijing and what it was like to be part of an underdog team representing the U.S., listen to the full interview from South Asian Stories. Bhavsar’s story extends beyond competing at the Olympics — he still has the desire to “flip and twist and be artistic.” As he shares with listeners, he’s been doing that in some wonderfully creative and artistic ways over the years, including acting, stand-up, and starring in Cirque du Soleil, among other noteworthy endeavors.
Additional reading and watching: