By Nick McCarvel
While Simone Biles and some of her fellow Olympic teammates are unsure of what comes next for them at the conclusion of the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions, there is one thing they are certain they’ll miss: The family they’ve created as they’ve crisscrossed the country over the last few two-and-a-half months.
“The best part to me has been traveling to all the different cities and states – it’s like being on a road trip with a group of your best friends,” Biles told USA Gymnastics recently.
“When we are together, we’re like a big family,” added Laurie Hernandez.
Since late September, that gymnastics family has performed some 38 shows in 36 different cities. Hundreds of thousands fans have seen them live, a good number of those fans being young, aspiring gymnasts themselves, all getting the chance to see their Olympic heroes up close.
“When we were in Rio and competing, we didn’t actually see how many people were watching and supporting us,” said Aly Raisman. “To see it in person, it’s been really cool. It puts everything in perspective and makes me appreciate all of the cool stuff we’ve gotten to do.”
Performing on the road is something all of the gymnasts have enjoyed, a welcomed change from the high-pressure situations they faced in the lead up to the Summer Games and then in Rio itself.
“There’s no pressure,” explained Sam Mikulak. “You get an adrenaline rush every time, which we all love as performers. If you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. You get to joke about it later. Everyone has always been in such great spirits.”
But with the conclusion of the tour the real world is beckoning: What’s next for the best gymnasts in the U.S.?
“I don’t think tour is the time to think about what comes next,” said Biles, a smile spreading across her face. “You have to embrace the moment.”
Biles has said she plans on a return to elite gymnastics for Tokyo 2020, however, as has Raisman. Though, for Aly, not before one of her famous naps – a long one.
“I definitely need a break, I’m exhausted right now,” said Raisman, who hopscotched the nation on the last week of tour for a variety of commitments. “I’ll probably do what I did four years ago: I’m not going to rush back to competition. I’m not going to come back if I can’t compete at the Olympics. That’s the one that everyone wants to be at.”
Raisman and was joined by 2012 teammate Gabby Douglas on the comeback trail for this Olympics, but Douglas is unsure of her plans, saying she’s going to be “taking some time to decide” what to do next.
“I have a few things I want to do” in the meantime, Douglas explained. “I’m interested in pursuing some acting opportunities, and having the chance to volunteer for some causes that are near to my heart.”
Douglas was touched by the many kids she met on tour, including one young girl in the Atlanta area that is part of the Make-A-Wish program.
Hernandez – like Biles – has a book due out, but first wants to finish the season of “Dancing With the Stars” on a strong note, as well.
“I’ve loved having the chance to both; it’s been an honor,” she said of participating in the TV show as well as tour. Then, she echoed Raisman: “I need a nap!”
There will be no nap for Biles, whose own book, “Courage to Soar,” comes out tomorrow. She’ll head to New York, California and her home state of Texas to promote it on a mini book tour. Hernandez’s book (“I Got This”) is due out in January.
What are the near-future plans for the rest of the touring Olympians? We found out:
Kocian is fully settled in at UCLA for her freshman year of school and first season of college gymnastics, though tour stops in Los Angeles, Texas and Boston have had her doing some homework on back-and-forth flights. She will take next season off from elite gymnastics, then decide what’s next.
“I am having a lot of fun, especially with the great team that I’m on here,” she said from Los Angeles. “I’m going to focus on doing college gymnastics and just be a freshman. The plan right now is to compete all-around, which I’m really excited about. After the season, I’m going to see how my body is feeling and what is making me happy.”
Mikulak is making plans to join Kocian in Southern California, though he’s not sure exactly where yet. “After tour I’m going to move back to Colorado Springs and train there, I would like to move back to California to train as soon as possible,” he said. First Mikulak has to get his training situation settled, then he will make the move. “I want to be close to family and friends.”
He added: “I’ve spent so much of my life outside of California and gotten the chance to experience a lot of different cultures and I’ve learned a lot about myself, but I want to be in a place now where I am familiar, where I feel comfortable. I want to use that to my advantage in my training.”
Another soon-to-be Californian is Leyva, who is heading to Tinseltown with the same dream of many Americans: Making it as an actor. “I’m focusing on acting for some time, but I’m not ruling out gymnastics just yet,” Leyva said. “I want to do all kind of acting – anything and everything. I would probably do TV at first and then if I can work my way into movies that would be great. The plan is to head there immediately after tour.”
Naddour said that the support on tour has been incredible to see in person: “We hear it and see it on social media, but it’s a different thing to have the crowd here to cheer for us and celebrate our accomplishments, he said.
He’s motivated to continue to train, though he will “play it by ear.” He said: “If I continue on – which I’m planning on as of right now – I’ll probably do three to four events maximum. I really want to push the younger generation. Sometimes all of the guys stop (in one generation) and the younger ones get a pass onto the national team. I’m going to continue on so I can push them and help grow the sport in the U.S.”
Dalton is on a mission – or missions, rather. “I’ll go back home to Oklahoma and start training to see how my body feels,” he said. “I also want to get into the fitness industry, create a lot of things with Brandon Wynn because we want to do a lot with fitness.” Dalton said his body needs a break, perhaps a little holiday indulgence over Thanksgiving and Christmas, then a week-long vacation in January. Then, however, he has his eye on 2017 Worlds. “Individual worlds is a goal if my body can hold up and I can push through,” he said. “I’m not thinking too far ahead, especially as I get older, I’m taking things year by year.”
Brooks continues the let’s-see-how-it-goes theme of the men’s team. “I’m going to go back to Colorado and take it one day at a time,” he said, saying he needs a check-in with his body, as well. “If I can make some adjustments to these new coaching changes and focus on parallel bars and high bar, then I want to chase that one more world medal at individual Worlds. It’s a goal. It’s not top priority because I know, realistically, I have to check in with my body and see where I am.”
With his Olympic dreams dashed by an ACL tear in July, Orozco has been showered with support during his time on tour, saying he’s felt overwhelmed at times with fans checking in on the progress of his knee. He would like to return to competition, though he doesn’t want to rush the decision.
“It’s a big question mark,” he said. “I feel like I don’t want to end my career on a low note.”
“I want to see what happens when I get back to 100 percent healthy and see how I feel about competing then,” he said. “It’s easier to make a decision when I’m fully healthy.”
Making the 2016 Rio Olympics was unexpected for trampolinist Ahsinger, but the experience has only made her want to do it all over again.
“I’m going to national team camp a few days after tour,” she said. “I have already decided that I’m going to go for 2020. I am still young and trampolinists don’t peak until their late 20s or 30.”
Fellow trampoline Olympian Dooley will also be at national team camp, though he’d is unsure of what his coaching set up will be after that. (He’s looking to make a change.) “It’s going to be very hard and very difficult, but hopefully I can keep up with everybody that is out there still playing the game hard,” he said. “First, though, I need a little downtime before I ramp up for another Olympic cycle.”
Zeng, who finished 11th in rhythmic gymnastics, would like to make another Olympics, as well. “I’ve already gotten all my new routines, so what’s next is just continuing to practice and improve upon myself and keep going,” she said. “2020 is always a little bit in the back of my mind, but in order not to get caught up in everything, I have to focus on one season at a time. The Olympic cycle was one heck of a ride. I think the next cycle will be much different. I think I achieved so much this time around that it’s going to be hard to continue on my same trajectory. I just have to work even harder.”