By Jo-Ann Barnas, Special Contributor
RIO DE JANEIRO — It didn’t take long for Nicole Ahsinger to experience the awestruck side of being an Olympian.
Sharing an elevator with swimming legend Michael Phelps will do that to you.
And meeting Serena Williams.
And taking a photo with sprinter Allyson Felix.
“It’s hard not to be a fan,” said Ahsinger, 18, who’ll compete Saturday in women’s trampoline at the Rio Olympic Arena. Qualification and the final round is held the same day.
Ahsinger, a Californian who trains at Trampoline and Tumbling Express in Lafayette, La., spoke with USA Gymnastics after training Friday morning, her first and only practice at the arena. Although she’s the youngest competitor in the women’s field, the 2015 U.S. World team member and 2014 Youth Olympian still has lofty goals. Here are excerpts of the interview:
Question: How did it feel today being at the competition arena?
Answer: “Oh, my, gosh. I don’t even have words. I went to Youth Olympics, and I thought I kind of knew what I was going to get myself into, but it is so amazing to be here on trampoline with girls who have been to the Olympics three, four, five times now, and I’m the baby of the group. So it’s really cool looking up to them and seeing how awesome it (the Olympics) is to bring everyone together.”
Q: What are you most curious about the Olympics?
A: “I want to know how loud it is. Everyone that I talked to said to tune it out, that it’s really loud. So I’m excited to go out there and compete see actually what the difference is between World championships and the Olympic Games.”
Q: Were you able to see your U.S. gymnastics cousin – the artistic side — win the team gold medal?
A: “I’m pretty good friends with Simone (Biles), like I talk to her quite a lot the past few months. I got to watch when they won team gold and that was incredible. I got chills. It’s so cool seeing how happy (they are), and how much their hard work is paying off.”
Q: What are your goals tomorrow?
A: “Well, my goal was to always make the Olympics, and I did it at such a young age — I’m the youngest competitor. Now, my goal is to make finals. And then my next goal will be to (win) a medal. So wherever it takes me tomorrow, I hope that my goal can be accomplished. But right now, I’m very happy with how I am right now. So I’ll see how it goes, and if I don’t get a medal this time, then I’m going to try for 2020.”