Golden: The Journey of USA’s Elite Gymnasts episode two She’s Gonna Be Somebody is an emotional roller coaster ride as gymnasts return to competition for the first time in over a year. It features, as seen in episode one Red, White, and Gold, Morgan Hurd, Laurie Hernandez, Sunisa Lee, MyKayla Skinner, and Konnor McClain.
What’s in a Coach?
An awful lot as it turns out. The spotlight shifts a bit from the players introducing themselves and showing the struggles they’ve faced over the last year to the relationships they share with their coaches. Again, Golden: The Journey of USA’s Elite Gymnasts does the rare thing and shows that it’s not all sunshine and flowers, maybe in part because of Dominique Dawes’ involvement in the project, and it is pivotal.
It goes into depth about the verbal and emotional abuse Laurie Hernandez endured from her previous coach and allows a frank discussion about the aftermath that a lot of survivors of abuse deal with. Did I deserve it? Was I right? How can I prove words spoken and did I misremember? Laurie puts all of this out there in a heartbreaking but incredibly brave light that shows how pivotal a good coach really is to protecting these women as they grow.
They spend forty hours a week (or more) with their coaches, they have to trust them to keep them from getting paralyzed or dying. They’re their lifeline, their moral support, their secondary parents, and the bosses of their training that push their limitations all rolled into one. There is no room for misplacing the power they have over their athletes. None.
The coaches can either contribute to the emotional and physical anguish the gymnasts endure on their road to the Olympics, or they can find ways to ease it, to support the athletes, and create space for mistakes and growth. Too many coaches are not on the side of their athletes, but rather on the side of winning, and it takes a toll the episode doesn’t shy away from. She’s Gonna Be Somebody does a fantastic job of showing what it means when a coach fails these athletes and what it looks like when they don’t.
Laurie Hernandez found a better gym and better coaches, and even though she didn’t make the Olympics, the ability to step back into competition and learn that she liked the sport with the right people at her back is a good message to send to any young gymnasts who are watching. It tells them to protect their spheres and speak up if something isn’t right with their coaches. That it gets better. It’s a powerful statement and I have all the respect ever toward Laurie for making it.
As Konnor’s mom Lorinda roughly puts it, Konnor’s good experience with USA Gymnastics has everything to do with the generation who came before her. The women who had to put up with so much pain and abuse as they chased gold, but who came through it all with a determination to make things right. Speaking up the way they did against Larry Nassar and the the former USA Gymnastics leader has protected a new generation of young women. It’s protected people like Konnor. It allows them to be kids and competitors and that’s massive in a sport that has long held abuses at the core of its foundation.
She’s Gonna Be Somebody does a beautiful job of putting the spotlight on Laurie Hernandez as Lorinda speaks about the generation before Konnor, showing none-too-subtly who she has to thank for that easy experience. It’s quality editing, quality storytelling, and it is enough to make anyone cry.
I mean me. I’m anyone. Thanks, Lorinda.
The Winter Cup
The gymnasts make it to the Winter Cup in this episode and it feels like the place where all the jitters and uncertainty come to light for the gymnasts. Two athletes are injured while doing their routines and both Laurie Hernandez and Konnor McClain switch their planned routines to accommodate for the nerves and the practicing they still need to do.
The lead up to the competition is felt in Konnor’s anxious packing, in her conversation with Morgan Hurd, and in Suni’s relentless preparation. This all makes it clear that getting back into the competition circuit isn’t as easy as it might appear on the outside – particularly when combating with a pandemic and a year of uncertainty.
But once the gymnasts get into the familiarity of performing, they shine, they excel and it’s easy to see what makes them all worthy of the Olympics.
She’s Gonna Be Somebody continues the messaging of Red, White, and Gold in that it makes a point to drive home the messaging that gymnastics is A. a sport B. it’s a painful one and C. it’s not something just anyone can do.
Everyone involved in the episode talks about the pain, the chronic and acute injuries, and the fact that leading up to the competition gymnasts like Konnor are taking two Advil a day just to make it through. MyKayla mentions a girl landing wrong while she was in college and dying. Everyone has pain or fear of pain they have to work through, and I love that the episode shows that the cost of being a contender on the world stage is high, even deadly in some cases.
It would be a disservice to the gymnasts to claim that it’s easy, that anyone could do it, and that there aren’t prices to pay for being so elite. Again, the power in it is that the filmmakers let the athletes speak for themselves and show the realities of what they do without flinching from the more gruesome aspects of it. It’s fascinating to be allowed behind the curtain to see the realism of the sport at last, but also illuminating. I had no idea so much pain was part of their daily life. I feel like I understand their sacrifices better in understanding their pain.
The Winter Cup is Konnor’s first foray into Senior gymnastics and you can see the anxiety of it as she travels to Indianapolis and is put in front of the cameras for the first time. It’s interesting to see it from a newcomer’s perspective, and you can’t help but root for her.
Suni doesn’t have as much time in this episode, but she casually dominates the Winter Cup alongside Jordan Chiles, and I think that says plenty about her competitive spirit, her skill, and the way she’s able to take her pain, her nerves, and her uncertainty and channel it into winning.
As I mentioned above, Laurie is the star of this episode. They delve into the abuses she endured from her previous coach, how she fought back, and eventually returned with the desire to find joy in the sport again. Her fight and her determination to protect the younger generations by speaking out is compelling and had me, a total novice to the sport, impressed with her strength and her desire to make sure they couldn’t sweep what happened to her under the rug. Showing her pain in this way really drove home the necessity of having a good coach that respects how much power they have over the athletes they’re training and represented the dangers of the abuse really well.
While cooking with her husband, MyKayla announces she isn’t going to the Winter Cup. She doesn’t feel ready and doesn’t want to risk her health on the formality of competition. She feels she needs more training, and you can’t argue with someone who knows their body as well as gymnasts do. Her words reinforce the rigors of training and that being ready is more important than throwing yourselves to the wolves without knowing if you can handle it or not.
Morgan also sits the Winter Cup out. Her coach, clearly in the realm of one of those who cares about the people he teaches, decides not to expose Morgan to the cameras and judgement when he feels she isn’t quite where she needs to be. It’s a nice moment to focus on a coach who cares more about her recovering and being ready than winning every possible thing. Morgan also seems to appreciate it and she spends her time encouraging newcomer Konnor McClain in a heartwarming scene of solidarity (and vomit woes).
She’s Gonna Be Somebody adds to the themes of the first episode nicely and does good work in explaining the power of the relationship between coaches and gymnasts. It can either be a healthy, protective, symbiotic relationship that knows when to push or push back, or it can be abusive, damaging, and create survivors out of young women.
Hopefully, with the changes that gymnasts are demanding from USA Gymnastics and the sport in general, healthy relationships will remain a priority and be protected moving forward, so that no one has to feel the way Laurie Hernandez felt ever again.
Golden: The Journey of USA’s Elite Gymnasts is streaming on the Peacock app now.