Laurie Hernandez is finding the silver lining in Olympic postponement.
The U.S. gymnast who captivated the world at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, en route to two Olympic medals, is hoping that another year will work to her advantage.
“It feels for me like I’m going to be a lot more prepared,” the 19-year-old told Olympic Channel’s Ash Tulloch on Thursday, live on Instagram. “It’s comforting, more time. It’s all anybody could really ask for, I think."
A member of the ‘Final Five’ that captured Team USA’s third Olympic team gold medal in women’s gymnastics, Hernandez returned to training in late 2018, nearly a full year after her teammate Simone Biles, the four-time Olympic champion from Rio, got back to the gym.
A fact she’s keenly aware of.
“I knew I was late,” she said. “We knew it was going to be a really short amount of time.”
Hernandez says she always knew she wanted to make an artistic gymnastics comeback following a break after her Rio success, but didn’t get back into the gym until she knew she was ready, and until her passion for the sport had returned.
“Of course, I want to go to the Olympics, but my love for the sport overpowered every aspect of it,” she said. “It was just exciting to go and throw these skills again."
And like every great champion, Hernandez loves a challenge.
“The comeback has been so interesting. I knew it was going to be hard in the beginning – and it definitely was!” she admitted.
But now, with an extra twelve months to prepare following the postponement of the Games to July 2021, Hernandez says it’s an opportunity to add elements – old and new – to her routines.
“With a year delay, it feels interesting for every athlete, “ she said. “I now have another year which I can go back and take the time to upgrade and add some skills that maybe I’ve never competed before."
That, of course, will have to wait until she can resume full training. Hernandez moved from her native New Jersey to Southern California two years ago to begin training with Jenny Zhang and Howie Liang, who coached Kyla Ross to Olympic gold at London 2012.
With stay-at-home orders in place across the United States, Hernandez has returned to New Jersey and her family, and it’s given her unexpected time with loved ones as she continues work toward Tokyo 2020.
“The thing that I’m grateful for today is that I get to spend so much time with my family,” said Hernandez. “I don’t really get to see them that often… and to be able to go downstairs and have all the inside jokes with my brother that I had when I was little, that makes me very happy and I’m grateful for it.”
That time comes in between home training sessions that Hernandez admits took her a week or so to get used to.
“On days when I’m really tired and I don’t want to do anything, I take a break,” she said with a laugh. “I realized that my core foundation is my love for that freedom in movement and my love for working out and for testing my body’s limits.”
“I don’t plan on stopping just because of the change,” she said later. “I’m actually really excited about it.”