In 1996, the first time the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team won gold, there were seven members on the team. In 2000, they changed it to six. My year, 2012, was the first year they changed it to five. Now, the International Gymnastics Federation has said there will only be four starting in the 2020 Tokyo Games. They keep making the team smaller and smaller. I don’t agree with the decision.
As a gymnast, it’s already extremely hard to make the team, and they’re making it even harder. My biggest fear for the sport is that younger girls will think that it’s impossible to make the team, and they won’t even try for it. This will also make it even harder for girls who are specialists. You’ll have to be a strong all-around gymnast to make the team.
The Olympics are inspiring—especially for young athletes. I loved watching the ’96 Olympic team because it was in America, and I loved their leotards—they were red, white, and blue. On top of that, they won the gold medal. I was only 2 years old when it happened, so my mom had a VHS tape that she would replay it for me over and over when I was older. I loved the American girls, and I also loved the Ukrainian gymnast Lilia Podkopayeva. She won the all around, and she won floor. When I watched the tape, I always dreamed of winning floor at the Olympics like her.
Here in America, the biggest sports are football, hockey, baseball, and basketball because they’re big team events. In the Olympics, there’s something about the whole country coming together and supporting a team. There’s nothing like watching a team event, and watching the Americans win. We always say that the most important thing is the team first. The priority is the team gold medal, and then we focus on the individual ones. That’s what people remember—the team competition.
When you come together and do really well as a team, it creates this amazing bond that you share with your teammates for the rest of your life. I’ll always have that connection with my teammates from the 2012 Olympics—McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, and Kyla Ross. We worked hard, we conquered our fears, we made sacrifices, and then we came together and did everything we could to win. I’ve never been a part of a team where we were all so confident, where we all got along so well, and where we had so much fun. It was really magical the way everything came together.
The Rio Olympics are a year and a few months away, but I’m already starting to think about it every single day. I turn 21 next week, so I’m the oldest one on the national team. It’s crazy to be at training camps with 13- and 14-year-old girls. I take the role of being the oldest seriously and hope to be a good role model for the younger girls.
I’m really excited for the next year. I’ve always been the underdog, so I’ve never been in the position to go for another gold medal. It’s never been done: back-to-back gold for a U.S. gymnast. Gabby, Kyla, and I are going to try and do it together. It’s going to be hard, but we’re looking forward to it, and I hope we all make the team.