Laurie Hernandez
Getty Images

Laurie Hernandez: ‘Sassy’ young gymnast embraces Olympic stage

Leave a comment

Laurie Hernandez keeps insisting she’s too young to know better. That she’s so new to this whole Olympics thing, she doesn’t know she’s supposed to be scared.

“You just kind of have to act naive to it,” the 16-year-old said with a shrug. “It’s just another meet. The arena is just a little bigger than usual.”

The stakes, too. Yet the youngest member of the powerhouse U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team hardly seems intimidated. Hernandez is too busy putting on a show, her effortless charisma and “dare you to look away” performance during last week’s Olympic trials erased whatever doubt remained in national team coordinator Martha Karolyi‘s mind about Hernandez’s ability to handle the big stage.

If anything, Hernandez is trying to own it. Ask her what she considers her biggest talent and she doesn’t point to any particular physical attribute but something decidedly more abstract.

“I’m confident,” she said. “I’m a crowd pleaser.”

It shows, particularly when Hernandez’s floor music starts. What follows is 90 seconds of attitude and athleticism. Hernandez doesn’t dance so much as strut, every move joined by an electric smile that doesn’t seem plastered in place but an organic byproduct of the joy she’s feeling. She’s having a good time out there. And she wants you to notice.

Hernandez describes her gymnastics as “sassy” but that’s underplaying it. Her tumbling is on par with anyone on the planet not named Simone Biles — the three-time world all-around champion who is the heavy favorite to come back from Rio with a luggage full of gold medals — and her steady, detailed work on balance beam the result of thousands of hours spent with longtime coach Maggie Haney trying to get over a small bit of stage fright.

No, really.

Hernandez admits there was a time early on she was scared of the beam. When she hopped on she’d settle into a squat because she couldn’t summon the courage to stand. Haney didn’t baby Hernandez to get her going. If anything, Haney went the other way, putting Hernandez through countless “pressure sets” designed to force Hernandez into a choice: get mentally tough or find something else to do with your free time.

MORE: First Olympian born in 2000? It may be gymnast Lauren Hernandez

Sometimes Haney would play Hernandez and teammate Jazmyn Foberg against each other, the difficulty of Foberg’s next routine based on the quality of Hernandez’s. The worst for Hernandez, however, is when Haney would tell all the kids in the gym to stop working and gather around the beam, while her star student tried to hold it together in the stillness.

“I was like, ‘Why are you doing this to me? It’s so annoying, you’re really really making me anxious,'” said Hernandez, who easily posted the top score on beam at the trials. “But then I look back and I can only thank her for that because it’s made me so calm today.”

A place that slowly came into focus over the last four years as Hernandez learned to harness her considerable talents. She rose from 21st in junior nationals in 2012 to junior champion last summer despite wrist and knee injuries that sidelined her for most of 2014. When a knee sprain threatened to derail Hernandez’s momentum this year, Haney offered a very brief, very pointed pep talk.

“I looked at her, ‘It is time. Now,'” Haney said. “She snapped and went into kind of crazy … mode. Every practice, every time on the floor was important to her.”

The eye-opener came at the Pacific Rim Championships in April, when she came in third behind Biles and three-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman. It wasn’t just the praise from Karolyi that she noticed — it was the way people seemed to respond to her.

“You hear cheering and clapping and you’re thinking ‘I don’t even know these people,'” she said. “It brings a lot of energy, a lot of positive energy.”

Energy that practically radiates off Hernandez, the youngest of Wanda and Marcus Hernandez‘s three children. A second-generation Puerto Rican, Hernandez is proud of her heritage and aware she’s suddenly become a role model, even if she doesn’t quite consider herself one.

“I think people are people,” she said. “If you want something, go get it. I don’t think it matters what race you are.”

Hernandez considers herself a gymnast above all else. Sure that smile makes it look easy, but it’s also hard earned from years and years of falling and picking herself back up. Don’t let her playful demeanor fool you; she may be the bubbliest workaholic around. She’s home-schooled and spends most days working out with Haney at one of the two gyms near her home in Old Bridge, New Jersey, about an hour south of New York City. Pressed if she has friends outside the gym, she laughs and says not really.

That’s changing by the day. Biles considers her “a little sister.” Twitter verified her account (@lzhernandez02) after the trials. The mayor of Old Bridge threw a party for her this week. Everyone is looking to come up with a good nickname. The leaders are “The Human Emoji” and “Baby Shakira.” She can’t help but laugh at the idea while simultaneously trying not to get ahead of herself.

As for college, she has verbally committed to competing at Florida whenever she’s out of high school (she still has at least two years left). She downplayed the idea of turning professional. Hernandez won’t decide until after Rio so there won’t be any distractions.

“It’s all happening really fast,” she said. “This is a really cool part of my life.”

One getting cooler by the day.

MORE: Gabby Douglas spent months on crutches after 2015 Worlds

Anna van der Breggen is first cyclist to sweep road world titles in 25 years

Anna van der Breggen
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen added the road race crown to her time trial victory at the world road cycling championships, becoming the second rider in history to win both events at the same edition.

“This is, for me, pretty good so far,” she said.

Van der Breggen, the Rio Olympic road race champion, won after a solo attack with more than 25 miles left of an 89-mile course in Imola, Italy, on Saturday.

She prevailed after more than four hours of racing by 80 seconds over countrywoman Annemiek van Vleuten, the 2019 champion. Van Vleuten raced nine days after breaking her left wrist in a Giro Rosa crash.

Italian Elisa Longo Borghini took bronze in the same time as van Vleuten after losing a photo-finish sprint. Lauren Stephens was the top American in 11th.

Full results are here.

The race lacked American standout Chloé Dygert, who crashed out of the time trial while leading on Thursday and required leg surgery.

Van der Breggen joined Frenchwoman Jeannie Longo as the only male or female cyclists to sweep the time trial and road race at a single worlds. Longo did so in 1995 at age 36.

Van der Breggen, 30, said in May that she will retire after the 2021 Olympic season.

It will be the end of one of the great cycling careers. She is now a three-time world champion and nine-time world medalist to go along with her road race gold and time trial bronze in her Olympic debut in Rio.

Worlds conclude Sunday with the men’s road race. A TV and stream schedule is here.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: A more equal future for women’s cycling? Lizzie Deignan has high hopes

2020 French Open TV, live stream schedule

Leave a comment

Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams can each tie Grand Slam singles titles records at the French Open, with daily live coverage among NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel.

NBC coverage starts Sunday with first-round action at Roland Garros, its 38th straight year covering the event. Tennis Channel airs the majority of weekday coverage. Peacock, NBC Universal’s new streaming service, has middle weekend broadcasts.

All NBC TV coverage alo streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Nadal is the primary men’s storyline, favored to tie Roger Federer‘s male record of 20 major titles and extend his own record of 12 French Open crowns. Federer is absent after knee operations earlier this year.

The Spaniard’s primary competition is top-ranked Novak Djokovic, the 2016 French Open champion whose only defeat in 2020 was a U.S. Open default for hitting a ball that struck a linesperson in the throat.

Williams bids again to match the overall Grand Slam singles mark of 24 held by Australian Margaret Court. Williams, a three-time French Open champion, lost in the third and fourth round the last two years and is coming off a U.S. Open semifinal exit.

The women’s field is led by 2018 champion Simona Halep but lacks defending champion Ash Barty of Australia, not traveling due to the coronavirus pandemic. Also out: U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka, citing a sore hamstring and tight turnaround from prevailing in New York two weeks ago.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: How Jay-Z, Beyonce helped Naomi Osaka come out of her shell

French Open TV Schedule

Date Time (ET) Network Round
Sunday, Sept. 27 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
12-3 p.m. NBC
Monday, Sept. 28 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
Tuesday, Sept. 29 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
Wednesday, Sept. 30 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Second Round
Thursday, Oct. 1 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Second Round
Friday, Oct. 2 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Third Round
Saturday, Oct. 3 5 a.m.-12 p.m. Tennis Channel Third Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Sunday, Oct. 4 5 a.m.-12 p.m. Tennis Channel Fourth Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Monday, Oct. 5 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Fourth Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Tuesday, Oct. 6 6 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tennis Channel Quarterfinals
Wednesday, Oct. 7 6 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tennis Channel Quarterfinals
Thursday, Oct. 8 5 a.m.-2 p.m. Tennis Channel Women’s Semis
11 a.m. NBC, NBCSN
Friday, Oct. 9 5 a.m.-4 p.m. Tennis Channel Men’s Semis
11 a.m. NBC, NBCSN
Saturday, Oct. 10 9 a.m. NBC Women’s Final
Sunday, Oct. 11 9 a.m. NBC Men’s Final