From Rio to Boise: Olympians Amado and McGregor Ready For Next Adventure


The 2016 Olympic Games had a heavy NCAA presence, with ten gymnasts either past, present, or future collegiate competitors representing eight different universities from the SEC, PAC 12, Big Ten, Big 12, and MRGC conferences.

Two of these gymnasts are Isabella Amado of Panama and Courtney McGregor of New Zealand, both of whom competed in Rio and then almost immediately headed to Boise State, where they’re currently beginning their freshman year as student athletes in a rising program that finished the 2016 regular season ranked 15th in the nation. The two join fellow elite Sandra Collantes, who competed internationally for Peru before becoming a standout at Boise State, alongside a wholly stellar team in helping continue the program’s efforts to reach the national championships in the near future.

Amado and McGregor were two of six Boise State athletes competing in Rio, where McGregor, 17, had New Zealand’s best-ever Olympic finish, placing 41st all-around in qualifications with a 53.165 while Amado, who turned 20 days after competing in Rio and was the first gymnast to represent Panama at the Games, was right behind her in 44th with a 52.832 (a personal best by over a point). The road to their success in Rio was full of the usual hardship and sacrifice you see at the elite level, but both showed Olympic potential early on in their fight to compete among the best in the world.

When McGregor was 12, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake destroyed her gym, but she and her teammates refused to give up, training at a temporary facility while a new gym was built up from scratch. Only months later, the young team debuted as a fan favorite at the Pac Rim Championships, a meet that put her on the map.

Two years later, in her first year as a senior, McGregor became the first gymnast from New Zealand to make a world cup final in Doha, unveiling a double-twisting Yurchenko on vault that would contribute to two Pac Rims vault medals in the future, a silver in 2014 and a bronze in 2016. She worked hard to upgrade, making two more world cup finals in Doha and Anadia last year before becoming New Zealand’s all-around champion in 2015 and earning a test event spot at worlds, which led to her Olympic dreams coming true this summer.


Amado, meanwhile, was only 14 when she moved all by herself from Panama to the United States with the hope of improving her gymnastics. She found a place at Excalibur Gymnastics in Virginia Beach with coaches Dena Walker and Gustavo Moure, who started her out in J.O. competitions — Amado competed level 9 at first before moving up to level 10 in 2013 — to get experience before putting her on the elite track.

In 2014, Amado made her major international debut at Pac Rims, where she qualified into the vault and floor finals. Worlds came later that year, and then in November, she made history by winning Panama’s first world cup medals with bronze on vault and gold on beam in Medellin. Two more world cup medals would follow a year later, with silver on floor in Varna and bronze on beam in Osijek, and though she missed the qualification cutoff for the Olympic test event at worlds, she was the top candidate for the tripartite spot, earning a place in Rio, where she ended up out-performing many of the gymnasts who qualified over her in Glasgow.


We chatted with both of these incredible athletes this week to talk about their Olympic experiences, transitioning to NCAA, and future plans in the sport. Enjoy!

Courtney, what was more stressful — the test event where you still had to qualify, or the actual Olympics? What was your mindset going into each?

Courtney: I think going into the test event, I was pretty confident if I just did a reasonably good all-around performance I’d make it, so I wasn’t too nervous. But at the Olympics I was SO nervous! Before I left, I got messages from all of my friends, family, everyone I ever went to school with…I was thinking they’re all going to be watching me and it was gonna be so scary. But on the day of the competition it wasn’t so bad and I tried not to overthink it.

Isabella, your situation was a little different as the tripartite nominee. Were you expecting to get that spot, or was it a surprise to you?

Isabella: My coaches told me they were going to request me for the spot, and had to apply for me to be considered. They said I was the best tripartite candidate at worlds so I could pretty much expect to get the spot, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up and have them crushed. I still trained as if I was going, and then when it became official, I cried. I was so happy. My family had a little party in Panama to celebrate and I Skyped in for it.

How would you describe your experiences in Rio? Was competing at the Olympics everything you expected?

Isabella: It really was everything that I expected, worked for, and hoped for. It was a dream come true.

Courtney: It was definitely everything I expected and more. It was an amazing experience and it was really rewarding to have such a great competition and reach the top 16 on vault after all the work I put in, especially over the past couple of months having moved from home.

Courtney, did you train for the Olympics in Boise?

Courtney: Yeah, I came over at the end of May and trained here all summer with the Boise coaches [Neil and Patty Resnick and Tina Bird] before leaving for Rio. It was a unique coaching situation, as we don’t have a lot of coaches in New Zealand. One of the founders of my gym [Christchurch School of Gymnastics], Mary Wright [who last coached at the Olympic Games as a member of the Canadian team in 1976!], lives in the U.S. now and it was easier for her to get from Austin to Boise. She came up probably four times for a week at a time.

How was your transition to the United States? What do you miss most about home?

Courtney: It was really difficult at first. Lots of forms to fill out, really. [laughs] That took a lot of time. But just the living by yourself aspect was the biggest change…living without your family is a little different and hard to get used to. I think I’m pretty well adjusted to it now so it was good coming early. Boise is kinda similar to Christchurch, with a river going through the city and a similar climate…I like it here a lot.

Isabella: That was the hardest transition for me…I was 14 when I moved to the U.S. to train, a very young age to be without your parents. I had to mature really quickly and learn how to do a lot of stuff by myself. But it made the transition to college a lot easier.

You both got to walk in the Opening Ceremony. What was that like, and how did it inspire you going into the competition?

Isabella: It was a lot of fun. I didn’t expect it to be that fun, because it was mostly just walking around…but I got to meet the other athletes from Panama and we had a lot of fun just hanging out before marching into the Maracana.

Courtney: I thought it was going to be tiring and that my coach wasn’t going to let me go, but we decided to march. Everyone waited in a holding stadium before and they had music playing, which was cool. We walked for probably half an hour before going into the stadium, and when we came through the doors, it was something I’ll never forget.

If you could pick one moment that defined the Olympics for you, what would it be?

Isabella: The meet. I had a personal best score.

Courtney: I got to compete in the Olympic order — vault, bars, beam, floor — which was great. I got to my finishing pose on floor and I just remember thinking “wow, I’ve done it.”


(This is Courtney’s opening pose, not ending, but I couldn’t find any pictures of the ending pose!)

How much time did you have between the Olympics and coming to Boise State? Was there any time off?

Isabella: I stayed in Rio for about 10 days after I competed, so I got to hang out and see other sports and meet new people. Then I went to Panama for a few days before flying up to Boise. The time was really short, but I at least got to enjoy Rio a little bit!

Courtney: My family came to Rio, so that was cool. I  hadn’t seen them for a few months. We got to do some touristy things together, like Christ the Redeemer. I also got to watch the 100m final with Usain Bolt, and then obviously all of the gymnastics finals.

Did you guys get to see each other or support each other in Rio at all?

Isabella: Kind of. The girl I train with at Excalibur, Ariana Orrego, competed for Peru and she was in Courtney’s subdivision so we hung out a little while waiting for the bus and things like that.

Courtney: Yeah, it was a crazy schedule and the training made it hard, but we did get to spend some time together.

Isabella, what was it like having a club teammate in Rio with you competing for another country?

It was fun, but we didn’t get to see much of each other during training and the competition. When it was over, we got to see each other all the time though!

How did each of you make the decision to compete NCAA?

Isabella: When I moved to train in Virginia, I learned that’s what almost every level 10 gymnast does. It sounded like a lot of fun. I moved to the U.S. in 2011, and I knew within a year that I wanted to do it.

Courtney: I thought NCAA and the coaching staff here would benefit me and help me improve at the elite level, which is partly why I decided to do it. When Neil came to watch me compete last year in New Zealand, he did a little clinic for a few days and I remember thinking, wow, I learned so much in a couple of days…how much could I learn in four years? I also wanted the experience of competing as a team, which will be really fun because elite is extremely individual.

What was it about Boise State in particular that stood out to you and made it your program of choice? What are you most looking forward to in college?

Isabella: Definitely the coaching staff. They were close with my club coaches and I knew them very well. And I can’t wait to compete with a team. I’ve never done that before, so it will be a lot of fun.

Courtney: It was the coaching staff for me as well, and also, when I came on my official visit, the girls were so amazing and the campus was beautiful. Everything was what I wanted. I just think the whole experience will be amazing. Obviously gymnastics will be great, but I’m also excited for the college experience and meeting new people.


What will the transition from elite routines be like?

Isabella: Right now we’re just getting back into it…I had a big break and I’m getting used to training again, and I’m really sore! I think they’ll take the extra stuff out, the skills I needed for the elite code of points, but I want to keep training to compete internationally so I’ll keep working my elite skills on the side so I don’t lose them.

Courtney: I’m mostly looking forward to doing three passes on floor instead of four! That’ll be really nice. But we’re just playing around at the moment. I think we’re going to keep up with the elite skills just in case I decide to keep going. But overall, the routines will hopefully be a little easier with more of a focus on execution.

So you both seem to have plans to possibly continue competing internationally in the future. Tokyo 2020?

Isabella: That’s in the very back of my mind.

Courtney: It’s a unique situation here, and it could be fun for Izzy and I to do elite together. We could train together, which would be cool.

A big thank you to Isabella and Courtney for taking time out of their busy schedules to speak with me! Best of luck on your new adventure, and we can’t wait to see you compete next spring.

Article by Lauren Hopkins


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