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Hernandez has a gold and silver; now comes the balancing act

RIO DE JANEIRO -- It was one of the first questions fired at her after her second medal of these Games on Monday, and if Laurie Hernandez did not know before then how life was about to change, this was a pretty good indication.

"People love you back home and they want to see you on 'Dancing with the Stars.' What do you think about that?" came the breathless inquiry.

"That would be really cool," Hernandez said with a giggle. "Yeah, I guess."

She will learn, no doubt, how to say no -- or at the very least, "You'll have to talk to my agent." A year ago, the 16-year-old from Old Bridge, New Jersey, who confirmed last week she was foregoing her University of Florida scholarship and turning professional, was competing in juniors. TV and tweets from singers Taylor Swift and Tori Kelly (her favorite so far) were seemingly a long way off.

"A year ago I won P&G [Gymnastics Championships] for juniors and that was an exciting moment," she said with her now-trademark smile, "but it doesn't compare to today."

That smile -- and especially the wink she flashed at the start of her floor routine during team finals, something she has done every time before this routine -- set the Twitter world ablaze with the instant GIF. It also began the projections of how big this gold-medal-winning U.S. women's gymnastics team, considered the best the U.S. has ever produced, can be.

When someone asked all-around gold medalist and the team's marquee star Simone Biles about a planned trip to visit the famous Rio landmark, Christ the Redeemer, she wasn't sure.

"All of us girls want to go," she said, "but I don't know how crazy it will get if all five of us go at the same time."

Hernandez would, presumably, be the third-most-marketable gymnast behind Biles and Aly Raisman, but her Latino roots -- her grandparents are from Puerto Rico -- opens other potential avenues.

Hernandez is the first U.S.-born Hispanic athlete to make the U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team since Tracee Talavera at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

"It's very nice that they're watching," Hernandez said of the Latino audience, "and I can't thank everyone enough for the support."

Hernandez's coach Maggie Haney said her pupil is up to the onslaught of attention she is sure to get, at least in the immediate aftermath of Rio.

"She is," Haney said. "I think I'm a little more nervous about it than she is just because it's going to be different for her. She's excited, she's definitely a people person, and I think she's going to be great in this new life, but as kind of a protective parent, I'm definitely a little bit nervous for her. I just want to make sure she's safe and nobody does wrong by her."

Her parents, Tony and Wanda Hernandez, have some of the same concerns with attention on their daughter mounting.

"There are certain things we don't want her involved in depending on what that may be," Tony said.

"[But] people have been very kind," Wanda said. "I don't want to say we've been inundated. It's been heartfelt wishes and 'Hey, we're here just in case.' We're appreciative of everyone who comes through the doors."

For now, Laurie said a "little break" from practice is ahead but not much.

"Nothing crazy," she said. "I hear like Aly [Raisman] and Gabby [Douglas] take a year or two, but I wouldn't take one that long at all. Maybe just a little one to rest my body and then I'm ready to get back at it."

As for Tokyo 2020, it is certainly in the plans. But that's a long way off, and even those who have seen Hernandez's potential for years, like U.S. national team coordinator Marta Karolyi, was impressed by what the teenager pulled off.

"Being a contender is one thing," Karolyi said. "Winning a medal is another, and she proved my feeling she is definitely world-class, especially on the beam."

Hernandez is still in the moment, and the moment is good enough to wallow in for at least a little while.

"When you're a little kid and you're like thinking about the Olympics and you just have this big expectation, it just lived up exactly to that," she said. "To be here is exciting and to win medals is incredible."