Laurie Hernandez

Laurie Hernandez’s new normal: training 2,000 miles from her coaches

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Laurie Hernandez wanted to be with family during the coronavirus pandemic, which meant moving across the country.

Hernandez, the Rio Olympian coming back for a Tokyo Games bid, flew from her training base in Orange County, Calif., to her native New Jersey about four months ago. She’s been training at a Garden State gym, though her primary coaches aren’t with her.

She called the situation “kind of weird” on an “On Her Turf” virtual athlete panel with fellow Olympians Sydney McLaughlin, Ibtihaj Muhammad and Breanna StewartErin Lim, host of “The Rundown” on E!’s Snapchat, moderated the panel.

“People that are overseeing here are absolutely wonderful,” Hernandez said. “I kind of miss that dynamic [in California], but again it’s a new normal, and I also know that I’m very privileged because I have a place to go.”

Hernandez, a gold and silver medalist in Rio, was the youngest U.S. female Olympian across all sports at age 16. She took a break from competition after the Olympics, won “Dancing with the Stars” and began her comeback in earnest in 2019, attending her first U.S. national team camp since the Rio Games in November.

She planned to return to competition this spring, before the pandemic halted sports and postponed the Olympics to 2021.

“It’s definitely really helpful, I’m not gonna lie,” Hernandez said. “The extra year actually gives me a lot more time to train and add some upgrades and maybe get a little more consistent on things that I wasn’t too sure about for this year.”

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MORE: When Laurie Hernandez winked at the Olympics

When Laurie Hernandez winked at the Olympics

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Blink, and you may have missed one of the social-media-sensation moments of the Rio Olympics.

Laurie Hernandez, then 16, was the youngest woman on the U.S. Olympic team across all sports. She was about to start arguably the most important floor exercise routine of her life.

So, she winked.

“The amazing thing about the Olympics is that you feel so many different emotions in the span of a few days, and they are all intense,” she wrote in her 2017 book, “I Got This,” a nod to what she told herself before her balance beam routine earlier that night. “So it was nice to have at least one totally playful moment.”

The U.S., on its fourth and final rotation, already had the team gold all but locked up. Knowing she was nervous, Hernandez’s teammates confirmed to her that they were a few points ahead.

Then Hernandez heard the beep, and it was time to go. She was in the view of an out-of-bounds judge at the Rio Olympic Arena.

“Well, I looked straight at her and suddenly felt this surge of confidence to wink,” she wrote. “Later, a woman came up to me while I was watching Simone [Biles] and Aly [Raisman] compete in their all-around finals and she said, ‘Wow, I just want you to know that when you winked at the judge, it really worked.’ I didn’t know how to respond, so I just said, ‘Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.’ That’s when she told me she was the out-of-bounds judge! All I could say was ‘Oh my goodness.'”

Hernandez, a New Jersey native, finished the Olympics with a team gold and balance beam silver.

She took more than two years off before making a comeback in earnest last year, announcing she planned to return to competition this spring under new coaches in California. Now that’s on hold given the coronavirus pandemic, which pushed the Tokyo Olympics to 2021.

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Laurie Hernandez, Maggie Haney react to coach’s suspension

Laurie Hernandez
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Laurie Hernandez gave her first TV interview, while former coach Maggie Haney offered her first public comments, after Haney was banned eight years after verbal and emotional abuse of gymnasts.

“It’s a really big step for gymnasts and USA Gymnastics just to go ahead and do the right thing and make sure people know that kind of treatment isn’t OK. It’s not OK,” Hernandez said on TODAY on Monday while promoting the “Stronger than you think” initiative to help teens through mental health.

Hernandez said that the process that ended up suspending Haney took too long, about three and a half years after she first told her mom.

“I mean, the case was opened late 2019/early 2020,” she said. “In all that time, they could have prevented a lot of athletes from having to go through the same thing that I went through, but I’m just glad that we were able to do something about it.”

Haney, who coached Hernandez to Olympic gold and silver medals in Rio, issued a statement.

“My coaching techniques were at all times, well-intended; meant specifically to lead her to her personal goal of achieving Olympic gold,” Haney said, according to TODAY. “If the pursuit of excellence and the rigor of my coaching style has resulted in any harm to any gymnast that has been a part of my team, I am truly sorry.”

USA Gymnastics CEO Li Li Leung said the organization vows to do better.

“To respond more empathically, to resolve complaints more efficiently, and to be more vigilant,” she said in a statement last week. “We will keep improving this process until our athletes and our community can trust it. And we will keep working with our community to improve the culture within our sport, so that abuse like this is no longer tolerated.”

MORE: Biles addresses Class of 2020 during Facebook graduation

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