“You see a different side of us; you see our personalities,” Raisman says. “The show is more relaxed [than competition]. There’s no judges here. It’s more fun. We have a really good time and get to know each other. And we’re learning really cool dances.”
To Geddert, who is also Jordyn Wieber’s longtime personal coach at Geddert’s Twistars in Lansing, Mich., it’s understandable that gymnasts want to enjoy their Olympic success. But, he adds, it often comes with a price.
“With the trend to capitalize on your fame, I think that takes them out of the realm of reality, and they lose that edge of what it took to get there in the first place: ‘Now I’m a superstar! I’m doing all these shows and exhibitions and TV appearances and special engagements!’” Geddert says. “They should, by all means, enjoy the fruits of their labors. I encourage them to do so. But I think with all that exposure comes a little bit less motivation. If you’re going to become one the top five kids in the United States, you can’t be lacking in any department. Motivation is certainly one of them you can’t be lacking.”
‘Your body just forgets’
Britain’s Beth Tweddle qualified for her third Olympics this summer and won her first medal (bronze on the uneven bars) at 27. Even more eye-popping was the participation of Oksana Chusovitina, a former Russian who competed for Germany at age 37.
But few countries rival the depth of gymnastics talent in the United States, which some argue could field two medal-contending women’s Olympic teams. The standard for making the cut is so high, in fact, that neither Liukin nor Shawn Johnson, who won gold and silver in the individual all-around respectively at the 2008 Beijing Games, qualified for London-bound U.S. team.
They were hardly at the sunset of their careers when they were deemed the world’s best two gymnasts just four years ago. Liukin was 18; Johnson, 16.
But Johnson dropped her bid to repeat in June, realizing she simply couldn’t regain her skills after suffering a serious knee injury on a ski slope in 2010. And Liukin, now 23, fell from the uneven bars during the U.S. Olympic trials weeks later, her skills too rusty after a three-year hiatus from competition.
“I saw them train, and I know it was so hard for them to come back — harder than they ever thought it would be,” Raisman says of Liukin and Johnson. “When you’re out of the sport awhile, you forget how difficult it is — not only physically exhausting, but mentally.
Adds Geddert: “Both of them were phenomenal athletes and phenomenally successful, but both of them took a lot of time off to go do their different things. And in this sport, it’s just not possible. You would think the rest would do you good, but your body just forgets how to do gymnastics.”
It’s a pity, he believes. Every sport needs heroes to capture the public’s imagination; gymnastics is no different. But to sustain the public’s attention, Geddert notes, those heroes need a bit of staying power.
Despite the challenges in store, Douglas believes she has just that.
“It’s really tough once you set a goal and accomplish a goal. You think, ‘What else can I accomplish?’” Douglas says. “But I know I can go to more championships. Anything is possible if you set your mind to it.”