INDIANAPOLIS – The smile stated all of it.
Laurie Hernandez had simply completed her first festival because the Rio Olympics, and she or he couldn’t had been happier. It wasn’t best, and she or he is aware of she’ll want extra problem to stay tempo in what’s going to be a fierce battle for a place at the Olympic workforce.
However she’s again and she or he had a blast. As Hernandez talked with trainer Jenny Zhang, her smile used to be so large now not even her masks may conceal it.
“It used to be terrifying to first of all return available in the market,” the Olympic gold and silver medalist stated after doing two occasions at Saturday’s Wintry weather Cup meet. “Having that point clear of gymnastics to head and do my very own factor after which come again, it used to be like coming again as a brand new particular person, however with previous talents in my frame. I felt like I had a one-up on myself, if that makes any sense.
“I used to be in point of fact frightened after which I felt in point of fact excited and virtually like calm and composed at the apparatus, which isn’t one thing I felt used to be 16,” she stated. “So I in point of fact loved nowadays.”
Which is the entire level.
That Hernandez took time without work after Rio used to be hardly ever a wonder. Elite-level gymnastics is tricky, and the force of creating an Olympic workforce is sort of as taxing because the bodily effort. Plus, there have been industrial alternatives for the bubbly 16-year-old who’d been a fan favourite.
However there have been darker causes in the back of her spoil, too, which become transparent final yr when Hernandez’s former trainer, Maggie Haney, used to be banned via USA Gymnastics for 8 years for bodily and emotional abuse of Hernandez and different athletes. The ban used to be diminished to 5 years after Haney’s enchantment, however that’s nonetheless an peculiar period of time and displays the gravity of the abuse.
Even though Hernandez had left Haney after Rio, shifting to Los Angeles to coach with Zhang and her husband Howie Liang, the abuse persevered to traumatize her within the fitness center. Speaking about it, and being open about her struggles with psychological well being have helped her transparent that darkness away.
That’s what Hernandez intended when she stated after the meet that she feels as though she has a “new mind.” It isn’t simply that she’s now not a teen. She sees issues otherwise now. Each as an individual and as a gymnast.
“Possibly when I used to be 16, I might pass to compete and I might really feel frightened and I might be like, `I am not frightened. I am positive,’ as a result of I equated nerves with me now not being ready. Which I’ve discovered now, that isn’t true in any respect,” Hernandez stated. “You get frightened both approach since you care, now not since you’re now not able.
“So it is all simply a large mindset alternate. Now, I invite it and I do know that the nerves are what make you nice.”
It is helping, too, that Zhang and Liang are what coaches are meant to be, nurturing and inspiring. When Zhang noticed that Hernandez used to be suffering all the way through warmups with considered one of her tumbling passes on flooring workout, she advised Hernandez to not do it.
It will imply a decrease get started worth, certain, however so what? It’s February, and the Tokyo Olympics aren’t for every other 5 months. This meet is the similar of the preseason.
“She used to be like, `No, I would like you to have a great time. I would like you to hit and I would like you to have a great time,’” Hernandez stated. “She used to be hellbent on ensuring that I loved myself in my first meet again.”
That’s to not say Hernandez is taking all of this evenly. A ways from it. She wouldn’t have spent the final two-plus years running her butt off if she didn’t need a place on a 2nd Olympic workforce. She wouldn’t have discovered new talents that she received’t speak about but – “That is Struggle Membership. I will’t inform you the rest!” – however guarantees she’ll unveil quickly.
Even with the watered-down routines she did on flooring and steadiness beam, she confirmed she’s somebody who bears looking at.
She had excellent top on her tumbling passes and had just a slight stumble at the touchdown of the primary. However her flooring routines have all the time had a show-like high quality to them, and her skill to captivate an target audience has simplest grown since 2016. Appearing to a medley that integrated “The Room The place it Occurs,” Hernandez smiled and shimmied as though she used to be in a video for the Hamilton Mixtape.
“There used to be not anything expression-wise to choreograph (as a result of) I do know that if I am having a in point of fact excellent time, it’ll simply fly out of my face,” stated Hernandez, who did her personal choreography.
She has all the time possessed a lightness on steadiness beam that makes her glance as though she’s floating thru her regimen. Whilst some gymnasts land so solidly and with such drive the thud will also be heard right through the world, Hernandez is whisper quiet, her effortlessness disguising the improbable problem of what she’s doing.
She used to be beaming as she left the rostrum, telling Zhang, “It used to be excellent!”
Hernandez is coaching all 4 occasions, and has extra problem on beam and flooring than she confirmed at Wintry weather Cup. However all of this is for every other day.
For this primary meet, it used to be sufficient that she used to be right here and had a good time. Greater than sufficient, in fact.
It used to be the entirety.
Observe USA TODAY Sports activities columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.