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Gymnast Laurie Hernandez, 16, faces Olympic spotlight

July 16,2016 08:43

Laurie Hernandez, the New Jersey teenager who became the breakout star at the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials last weekend, wants to start polishing routines for the Rio Games. Hernandez, 16, acknowledged Thursday her life has been thrust into a ...and more »

Laurie Hernandez, the New Jersey teenager who became the breakout star at the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials last weekend, wants to start polishing routines for the Rio Games.Hernandez, 16, acknowledged Thursday her life has been thrust into a whirlwind since qualifying for the five-member team that is favored to win the gold medal in one of the Summer Olympics' marquee events. "That's all I've done this week," her coach Maggie Haney said of dealing with the attention. "I'm trying to keep her in the dark with everything going on. We haven't even talked about goals yet."Hernandez and her MG Elite coach did a 45-minute teleconference call with reporters Thursday -- the last media session before Rio de Janeiro.

Laurie Hernandez talks with the media the morning after being chosen for the USA Gymnastics Olympic team in San Jose, Calif., on Monmorning, July 11, 2016. The five-member team is favored to defend its Olympic title next month in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group)
Gary Reyes

Haney described a mob scene when Hernandez arrived at her Monmouth, New Jersey, gym Tuesday after finishing second to Simone Biles at the U.S. trials at the SAP Center. The gym's kids lined up outside to greet the newly minted Olympian."All the girls threw glitter down her throat, down her leotard, up her nose," Haney said. "That was not the way it was supposed to happen. People were delivering arrangements, balloons were coming in. All of a sudden little kids who didn't care about her the week before are saying, 'There she is, there she is.' "Haney has become the gymnast's protector as the crush of media and other requests have come like an avalanche. Hometown officials wanted to host a three-hour gathering with the mayor and other local dignitaries. Haney gave them an hour -- and made sure Hernandez was done in 65 minutes.Advertisement
Hernandez, who has been with Haney her entire career, let's the coach deal with the logistics."I have a lot of trust in Maggie," she said. "All I can do is trust her. She has a really good heart."The teen with a dazzling floor routine has retreated to a second gym in New Jersey where she can train in peace. Hernandez will regroup with the rest of the Olympic team next week at the national team training center near Houston. National team director Martha Karolyi plans to work with the gymnasts for nine days before heading to Brazil."It makes sense that we are in a little, quiet place in Texas," Haney said. "It is good to escape the madness -- it's good madness -- but it's good to" set it aside.When asked about Hernandez' plan to use social media during the Summer Olympics, Haney had a direct answer: "The plan is to not do it," she said. John Orozco of the Bronx has withdrawn from the men's Olympic teams after tearing knee ligaments on a horizontal bar dismount during training camp, USA Gymnastics announced. Alternate Danell Leyva of Miami will replace Orozco, who competed at the London Games.Orozco tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus, a similar injury to one he suffered in 2012.

Laurie Hernandez performs her floor exercise routine during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Sunday, July 10, 2016. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
Nhat V. Meyer

"It is always difficult to replace an Olympic team member," national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika said in a statement. "John's injury is unfortunate and heartbreaking news, but he is handling the situation like the true professional and champion that he is." Leyva, the 2012 Olympic all-around bronze medalist, won the horizontal bar silver medal at the 2015 World Championships for his fifth World medal. Leyva told this news organization last weekend at the SAP Center that had planned to train as if we would be competing in Brazil.Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow Elliott Almond on Twitter at Twitter.com/ElliottAlmond.

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