Laurie Hernandez makes comeback after four year absence

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Charlotte Zaun, Staff Writer

If you watched the 2016 Rio Olympics, then you most likely recall witnessing the abundant talent of Laurie Hernandez, a member of USA’s gymnastics team dubbed the “Final Five.” At only 16-years-old, the young standout took home a team gold medal as well as an individual silver on the balance beam. 

Fast forward four years. The now 20-year-old put herself back out onto the competition floor with intentions of having fun and competing confidently.  Hernandez joined several other elite gymnasts to compete at the 2021 Winter Cup. Due to Covid-19 and the cancellation of the 2020 gymnastics season, this was the first major competition since the 2019 U.S. Gymnastics Championships. 

Hernandez started training again in 2018 after taking two years away from the sport. After the Olympics, she felt she needed a break physically and mentally. The New Jersey born gymnast trained at MG Elite in Morganville, NJ. Her journey to the Olympics was not an easy one. In April of 2020, her coach, Maggie Hanny, was rebuked for verbal and emotional abuse  resulting in a five year coaching suspension from the sport. According to theguardian.com, with Hanny as a coach, “Hernandez suffered depression, anxiety, and disordered eating.” 

Although her accomplishments made the excruciating journey worth it, the repercussions of Hernandez’s gymnastics experience made her hesitant to come back to the sport she thought she hated. 

After moving to California to train at Gym-Max with coaches Jenny Zhang and Howie Liang, Hernandez decided to give gymnastics another shot. Her love for the sport was quickly rekindled. In an Instagram post last April, Hernandez stated, “I thought I hated gymnastics, and it wasn’t until mid 2018 I realized that it was the people that made the experience bad, not the sport itself.” 

With her eyes set on the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Hernandez returned to competition in an unforgettable manner. She grabbed the attention of the audience as she debuted her Hamilton inspired floor routine. Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr, tweeted, “You murda’d it! So damn impressive. Congratulations and thanks!” Hernandez also showed off the leotard she designed based off of Captain Marvel. Brie Larson, who plays this well-known superhero, commented on Hernandez’s instagram post writing, “Consider this comment my formal stamp of approval!! Wishing and wishing you strength in your return!” 

With scaled back versions of her routines, Hernandez managed to place 11th on floor and 5th on beam. Choosing not to include her hardest skills allowed her to focus on rekindling her competition spirit in the most stress-free way possible. Hernandez tells ESPN, “It was like coming back as a new person.” Her performance at the Winter Cup is only the beginning of her road to Tokyo, and she has a lot in store for the coming months.