2016 Olympic champion Laurie Hernandez announced her official return to competition in the most Laurie way possible – by tweeting to fans that if she got 3,000 retweets, she’d scream “FOR THE HONOR OF GRAYSKULL!” into the camera at the Winter Cup, a She-Ra: Princess of Power reference, because of course.
Hernandez then confirmed in a separate tweet that yes, it’s true – the Winter Cup, which begins with the usual men’s competition on February 26 before continuing with a women’s competition on the 27th, will be her first meet back after nearly five years since last stepping out onto the floor in the women’s beam final at the 2016 Olympic Games, where she won a silver medal after helping the team to gold days earlier. NBC Sports also confirmed the news with Hernandez’s agent.
After competing in the Rio Games at 16, Hernandez took a break to focus on a number of opportunities outside of gymnastics, including an appearance on Dancing with the Stars, where she was the youngest in the show’s history to win the Mirrorball Trophy alongside partner Val Chmerkovskiy. She joined American Ninja Warrior Junior as a co-host in 2018, voiced the role of Valeria in the Nickelodeon animated mini-series Middle School Moguls, and appeared as herself on Stuck in the Middle, Sesame Street, Celebrity Family Feud, Ryan’s Mystery Playdate, and Blue’s Clues & You! in addition to making a number of appearances on talk shows and in commercials. She also released a book, I Got This: To Gold and Beyond, in 2017, and in her spare time, she spoke out about the abuse she endured under longtime coach Maggie Haney, which after more than three years of initially reporting her back in 2016 finally resulted in Haney’s suspension in May of last year.
To say Hernandez has kept busy is an understatement, and yet she’s also found time to return to elite-level training, moving from New Jersey to Los Angeles, where she’s able to continue to take advantage of professional opportunities while training at Gym-Max in Costa Mesa.
Though her return to training in 2019 raised eyebrows – would a year really be enough time to get back in competitive shape before the Olympic Trials? – the COVID-19 pandemic ended up being a bittersweet blessing for the now 20-year-old gymnast, who said the postponement of the Olympic Games to 2021 gives her “a lot more time to train and add some upgrades and maybe get a little more consistent on things.”
Hernandez has looked much-improved from the earliest training clips she’s shared, showing a double layout on floor in one clip from November, a front layout to front double full to front tuck, Yurchenko double, Ray to Pak and van Leeuwen, and double pike beam dismount in another, and then working a full-in bars dismount and Chow to Tkachev back in October. She was always going to be great on beam, and when she was limited to just a year of training, I thought if her routine was good enough, she might even be worth sending to Tokyo as the second “individual competitor” for the United States just for that event.
Now, though, I’m excited to see the return of Hernandez the all-arounder, one of the world’s best all-arounders in 2016 who missed out on the chance to qualify for a spot in the Olympic final due to the FIG’s restrictive qualification format and internal U.S. team politics. Knowing the level of depth on the U.S. team right now, getting to Tokyo obviously won’t be an easy journey for Hernandez, especially under the kind of pressure that comes with a five-year absence and all eyes on her.
But I also think she’s always had exactly the right attitude coming into a situation like this that will make everything okay, no matter what happens. If her first competition in almost five years isn’t perfect, so what? I’m not expecting a podium finish or top scores from her right now; I’m just excited to see her back, period, knowing she will be able to use this early season competition figure out what she needs to do for the next one while still having a bit of fun. She’ll scream cartoon battle cries into the camera, make fun of herself on TikTok, and get right back to training. And if she is perfectly amazing and kicks everyone’s ass? A bonus.
Article by Lauren Hopkins