Dreaming of another Olympics
The first question they asked was: Are you going to go to Rio?
I was sitting in a room full of reporters, high above London's North Greenwich Arena. Twenty minutes earlier, I had won my third Olympic medal -- we'd won the women's team title the week before, and that night I won a bronze on beam and then the gold on floor. I had stood on top of the podium as "The Star-Spangled Banner" played in the arena. The victory ceremony was sheer magic, and I could not have imagined a better finish to the London Games.
But now it was over, and the reporters wanted to know: Was I going to do it again? I honestly had no idea. I gave a polite answer, saying how much I'd enjoyed my first Olympic experience and would love the chance to repeat it. That was true.
But internally I was thinking: Are you kidding me? The next Olympics is four years away. Making an Olympic team is a deep commitment that takes years of very hard work. Until I had done it, I hadn't thought about how much it had taken to get there. Would I really want to continue?
Fortunately, I was able to take some time to think about it. (There is an upside to having the Olympics be four years away, too.) My teammates and I were whisked from the closing ceremonies to New York to begin a whirlwind media tour. We did "The Colbert Report" and rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. We toured the country, stopping in 40 cities to perform and having a blast in every one.
I got some amazing individual opportunities, as well, including my own leotard line with GK Elite and the chance to be a contestant on "Dancing with the Stars." Last summer my family traveled to the Maccabiah Games in Israel, where we were honored as special guests. It was one of the most meaningful competitions of my life, even though I wasn't there as an athlete.
I had a lot of time to relax, and a lot of time to think. Before I knew it, an entire year had passed, and I hadn't really been training.
But in the back of my mind, the question from that night in London was still there: Would I go back to the gym? Should I try to make a second Olympic team? It was true that in spite of the great ending to the Games, there was some unfinished business. In the women's all-around final, I had technically tied Russia's Aliya Mustafina for the bronze medal. But tiebreakers are used at the Olympic Games, and I lost that one. Aliya went home with the bronze. I took fourth place with the exact same score, and I'll admit it still rankles a bit.
Finally, I went into the gym and sat down with my coach, Mihai Brestyan. I told him I'd like to try to come back, that Rio in 2016 was my goal. "Are you sure you really want to do this?" he asked. "I'm 100 percent with you -- as long as you are really doing this. But I don't want to waste my time."
In gymnastics, just because you've made one Olympic team doesn't mean you'll make another. Being a gold medalist at the last Games does not mean your spot on the next team is guaranteed.
There are new girls challenging for places on teams every year, and the U.S. program has been incredibly successful during the past decade. Since 2000, no American woman has made a repeat Olympic appearance. And when you accomplish your dreams -- or most of them, anyway -- do you really want to start all over again?
It took me a year to say yes, but I always knew, very deep down, that that was what my answer would be. Last August I traveled to the U.S. championships in Hartford, Conn. It was the first time in four years that I wasn't on the competition floor for nationals, and I missed it a lot. When I got home, I started going into the gym and conditioning regularly as a kind of beginning to serious training.
In October, Mihai and his wife, Silvia, put together a new training plan for me. I'm in the gym six days a week, but can still take classes at Babson College and have Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday free.
And while I am sore -- very sore sometimes -- mostly I feel like a kid again when I'm in the gym. Although some things were more challenging in the beginning (you forget how narrow and high up the beam is when you don't do it for several months!), I can honestly say that I've never felt better. Right now I'm still working to get my skills back, and trying to add new ones. Mihai stresses the importance of taking things slowly and pacing myself. Better to be ready when the time comes than rush and risk injury.
Rio is now a little more than two years from now. Time has gone by very quickly, and the next Olympics doesn't seem far away anymore. When the moment comes again, I'm determined to be ready. There's something about gymnastics that always drives me back to it.
So am I going to Rio? It's still way too early to say. Am I going to try? That's a much easier question to answer.