Emotions have been running high this week in Tokyo during the Olympic women’s gymnastics competition, from the anxiety amid Simone Biles’ decision to pull out of competition to joy as St. Paul native Sunisa Lee took the gold in the all-around competition.
But regardless of where they stand on the podium, Team USA’s members, which include five first-time Olympians and two Minnesotans, have already won over the hearts and minds of Rochester’s young gymnasts.
12-year-old gymnast Kendall Langenbrunner said athletes like Biles and Lee have inspired her to dream big.
“They show me to not be scared and just go for the skills so then one day, I can be up there, too,” she said.
Langenbrunner’s teammate Lexi Zaniewski, 11, also hopes to go to the Olympics someday. She was excited to see Lee’s performance because her favorite event is the uneven bars, something Lee excels at.
Zaniewski and Langenbrunner have been keeping up with Team USA for the past week -- when they haven't been training themselves at Rochester Gymnastics Academy.
“Watching them do all that cool stuff makes me want to just keep doing what I'm doing and doing what they're doing,” Langenbrunner said.
Emily West, 15, and Abbi Ryssman, 14, who compete on one of Jets Gymnastics’ advanced teams and hope to become Division I college gymnasts, said they were proud of gold-medalist Lee and her fellow Minnesota team member Grace McCallum and that the two were great examples of persistence.
“They both had injuries going into this season, and they just really worked hard and did their best with what they had and just kept pushing for their dream,” Ryssman said.
“They really took control of an opportunity and rose to the occasion,” West agreed.
Ryssman and West also expressed support for Simone Biles’ choice to withdraw as a decision in the best interest of Biles’ mental and physical health, as well as the entire team’s chances.
“We tend to think of those really high athletes as robots, like they're just so tough, they can do anything, but we have to remember that they're human too and they feel the pressure, “ Ryssman said.
The Games are an opportunity to learn what makes a good athlete and a good performance, West said.
“Even the best are human and everybody makes mistakes,” she said. “It’s how you react to those mistakes, that’s how well you're going to compete.”