Olympic gymnast Hernandez enjoys solid return at Winter Cup

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The nerves were there. They were really inevitable. Yet rather than greet them with anxiety or fear like she did the last time she stood on the competition field, Laurie Hernandez hugged them.

Yes it was more over four years – a lifetime and more in women’s gymnastics – since stepping off the podium at the 2016 Olympics with a star smile and a pair of medals around her neck. His journey since leaving Brazil has consisted of familiarizing himself with the traps of new celebrity, moving from New Jersey to Los Angeles and parting ways with a coach currently serving a 5-year suspension for abusive behavior.

Oh, and then there’s a hint of skepticism as to whether his return was legitimate.

However, everything took a back seat on Saturday at the Winter Cup in Indianapolis. The electric smile – she insists it’s no longer choreographed but heartfelt – has returned. And while his performance, a fifth on beam and an 11th on floor exercise after toning down his last somersault pass in the name of safety, provided proof of the length of his absence, his return was a victory in itself.

“It was like coming back as a new person,” Hernandez said.

She was talking about herself. She might as well have talked about her sport. The meeting was the first major uninvited event in more 15 months for almost the entire field after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of almost the entire 2020 competition schedule and the Tokyo Olympics postponed to this summer.

Even in a largely empty arena filled with cardboard cutouts and the exclamations of the show’s announcement crew echoing in place of applause, it seemed normal.

“It’s like these little butterflies that come and go,” said Hernandez, now 20. settle into my own body and just feel like I can relax and be grounded. And that’s kind of what happened today.

She wasn’t the only one. Jordan Chiles – who was considering leaving elite gymnastics to focus on his impending college career – scored the highest overall score of 57.050. It was a performance that validated his decision to make a race for the Olympic team, a path even more tough with athletes who turn 16 this year – including Konnor McClain and Skye Blakely – now eligible to compete in Tokyo.

“I just went over there and did what I did and showed people what they needed to see,” Chiles said.

Blakely and McClain seemed barely intimidated by the stakes. Blakely’s rock-solid beam routine – including a nice layout at the end of a tumbling pass that appeared to be standing on the ground, not a 4-inch piece of lumber 4 feet in the air – has it. push in a tie for the premiere on the event. McClain was fourth on beam and third vault.

“They performed very well,” said national team coordinator Tom Forster. “And they looked seasoned.

They will need to build on this resolution if they are to participate in the conversation this summer. Several of the most accomplished gymnasts on the US program – Olympic champion Simone Biles and former chief world champion Morgan Hurd among them – skipped what Forster described as a “preseason” event, a way for them. athletes to remove some of the rust.

Not everyone was rusty. Three-time world championship medalist Sunisa Lee put together a dazzling set on uneven bars, her highest 15,050 of the day across all events. Not bad considering that Lee isn’t kidding when she says she “skill chucks” there.

Leg injuries have …

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