When Laurie Hernandez stepped onto the floor at the 2021 Winter Cup (in a Captain Marvel leotard, no less) it was the first time she'd competed in over four years. She's come a long way since winning team gold and an individual silver medal for beam at the Rio Olympics as a teen. Now 20, she says she's grown as a person. "I'm honestly just winging it like everybody else," Hernandez told POPSUGAR laughing, though she added that, in all seriousness, she's matured. She's more realistic about, well, everything, and in terms of her sport, she's learned to embrace her nerves and rely on her expertise. So the stage is set: her focus is on earning a ticket to the Tokyo Summer Games.
"The pandemic definitely shook things up a bit," Hernandez said. "When you're training for something as big as the Olympics, it's not really something that happens on a whim. It happens with a lot of time taking it into consideration, knowing that you're gonna have to be ready to try and be the best in the world and to try and be the best in your country, and that is really difficult." Having to get back into a groove after COVID-19 restrictions thawed a bit was discouraging, she admitted, but there was a silver lining with the postponement of the Games: she was able to work on upgrades to her routines and get ready for the 2021 competition season preceding Tokyo.
Currently, Hernandez trains six days a week, four to four-and-a-half hours a day, at Gym-Max in California. All international competitions for her have been cancelled, but she's planning on competing in US meets ahead of the Olympic trials. These will include May's GK US Classic and Nationals in the beginning of June, a few weeks prior to trials. Though she "watered down" her routines at the Winter Cup since it was her first meet in a while (she didn't do nearly as difficult of a last tumbling pass on floor, for example), she noted that we can expect full performances at her next competitions.
Hernandez is known for her crowd-pleasing performances, and she actually choreographed the floor routine she debuted at the Winter Cup, which featured music inspired by Hamilton. Her only other event at that competition was beam, but her skills on bars and vault, she said, are coming along as well. She went to a national team training camp recently in Indiana and did all-around in an in-house competition (those are typically called "mock meets"), and she's excited to continue perfecting more challenging skills, especially on bars. "I think everyone will be happily surprised with what we show for this year," she stated.
When asked about her pre-competition rituals, Hernandez said she doesn't typically have a strict preference for day-of preparation (though she does like to listen to "chill" music such as Fleetwood Mac before a meet and then switch to something powerful, namely the Black Panther soundtrack). And, in terms of recovery, she relies on Hyperice products (her favorites are Hypervolt Go and the Venom for her back).
However, Hernandez did create a superstition of sorts by accident prior to the Winter Cup, she confessed, laughing again (she really is such a vibrant personality over the phone!). A friend gifted her a candle, which she burned pre-workout leading up to the competition. The workouts all went well, she said, so she decided to burn it again before the Winter Cup just in case. Lo and behold, the meet proceeded to go well, too (though we both agreed she should give herself and her training more credit).
"I am a very competitive person," Hernandez said of her Olympic-oriented goals. There are four spots available on the US women's Olympic gymnastics team and two individual spots: one will go to Jade Carey if she wants it, and though she still needs to qualify, Simone Biles is pretty much a shoe-in for a team spot.
Aside from aiming to join the likes of Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Kerri Strug, and Shannon Miller in achieving two Olympic appearances, Hernandez wants to be able to go out and show that she can compete with the best in the nation all while having attained a greater sense of balance (prioritizing her mental health, spending time with loved ones, and doing fewer hours of practice compared to when she was younger). "I kind of gave [it] everything when I was 16," she said of gymnastics. Now, with that same passion and work ethic, she's learned to focus on other aspects of her life as well.
"I'm really excited to see how my gymnastics looks this summer," Hernandez said. "Of course Winter Cup was so much fun, but again, they were watered down routines, so to be able to fully just show what we've been working on, and to do those upgrades, I would love to compare that to when I was 16 and see if I do go any higher."