Golden: The Journey of USA’s Elite Gymnasts episode three That Olympic Mentality focuses on the process that goes into the selection for the national team and the National Team Selection Camp that has historically been a breeding ground for abuse and pain. It features, as seen in She’s Gonna Be Somebody, Morgan Hurd, Laurie Hernandez, Sunisa Lee, MyKayla Skinner, and Konnor McClain.
The Past and The Present
The Olympic Mentality starts out with an interesting point of view, in that they make it clear how stressful, toxic, and terrible the National Team Camp was prior to 2016, when Larry Nassar and Béla and Márta Károlyi ran things. It shows that the young girls who went there didn’t want to be there, how they would sit there and look up ways to break their arms so they could leave, how the environment was something that no one should have to live through. They did because they wanted the Olympics and the chance to compete.
No one should have to live through those abuses just to compete. That isn’t the way things should be done or need to be done. Creating life-long anxieties and pain isn’t the way to create elite athletes. It’s a way to create survivors, and the episode shows that this is the case here. The casual way the gymnasts speak about the camp and the Károlyis makes it more heartbreaking because it was normal for them.
They show this in contrast to how the camp is conducted now. It’s nerve wracking, certainly, and everyone is being watched all the time, but it feels more casual than the videos you get to see of prior camps. It feels more like an assessment and a chance for everyone to prove where they’re at, as it should be.
I don’t really understand what the national team selection means and, opposed to the other two episodes, they don’t really explain it all that well. They spend more time showing what it was like to be selected. That it was torture to get there, basically. But I assume being on the National Team helps increase your odds of getting to the Olympics, so the disappoint on the faces of those who didn’t get chosen is understandable because they know they have that much farther to go to be selected.
Alongside the national team camp, the episode went into Tom Forster’s leadership a bit more, building on previous scenes where they’ve talked about how he’s brought new energy to USA Gymnastics. I’m still not sure if this is a P.R. attempt or an attempt merely to point out that the brave women who came forward meant real change, but I appreciate that there’s an attempt. Morgan’s mom talks about how they still have a long way to go but that the changes they’ve made has been noticeable and really good for the athletes, and that’s down to Tom’s leadership.
They have long shots of him watching from a distance, being a presence without being overbearing, talking to the coaches, and giving firm speeches that aren’t full of threats but suggest people need to step up their game all the same.
Most of all, it seems that the gymnasts are more comfortable making mistakes and knowing that they don’t have to be perfect to be considered, and I think that says a lot about the shift of leadership and dynamics. There’s less of a survivor mentality throughout, and I can only be relieved for them.
Okay, so this is a theme of every episode so far, but I think it’s a theme that needs to be reiterated as much as they do because I think people forget that being a gymnast isn’t all smiles and perfect landings.
When I was young, I danced six days a week for three to four hours and when they showed the scene of bleeding nails, I felt seen (and grossed out). Both dance and gymnastics are things that people dismiss – primarily because women are often the face of them – and I think if more people realized the way we tear our bodies up to get perfect, the effort, the practice, the athleticism, and the stoic facing of pain we endure, they’d have more respect for them both.
Every single gymnast in the documentary faces pain with that casual acceptance. They know that it’s part of the work, of competing an elite level, and I appreciate that the show refuses to let people forget the way the gymnasts put their bodies on the line to be as outrageously awesome at their chosen sport as they are.
Konnor anxiously cleans her room as she talks about the ups and downs of competing, how it all weighs on her, and hilariously, tells the camera crew that she doesn’t care if they’re there or not. It doesn’t impact her mood at all. Anxiety is weird like that, and it’s clear that Konnor’s anxiety really only really cares about how she competes and if she makes the National Team and not some show on Peacock. Konnor’s anxiety may get the better of her at camp because she doesn’t make the National Team the way she had hoped to. She is invited to another camp, but her disappointment lingers on her face.
Suni isn’t featured all that heavily in this episode, but the directors use the time she is present to showcase the way she cares about her sport and her friends. She’s seen meticulously laying out her clothes and talking with Morgan, who calls to talk about her injury, recovery, and the world in which they both love to be in. She chides Morgan for not letting herself heal properly and for a shining moment she’s a teenager hanging out with her friend instead of an Olympic contender.
Of course, Suni has a successful camp and makes the National Team. Throughout the small glimpses of her working and falling, it’s easy to see what makes her such a strong competitor. She’s focused, determined, and really, really good at what she does.
Laurie gets to spend some time with her friend and fellow gymnast from UCLA, Norah Flatley, in this episode. They talk about Nationals Camp and the way it used to be for the gymnasts before Tom Forster took over. They talk about how no one wanted to be noticed or seen and that meant terrible things for the person. They were jealous of a girl who got kicked out before camp even really got started because she was late taping her ankle. It showcased not only the friendship and camaraderie the pair have but the causal acceptance they have about the abusiveness of what camp used to be before 2016. They laugh about it now, as you sometimes do with trauma, but it was clearly something that was capital letters BAD. I’m glad it’s different now – not only for Laurie but the younger generation who are looking to compete as a National Team Member..
I’ve mentioned before that one of the things that the show does well is letting the athletes speak for themselves, but that also means they speak for themselves, and well, that’s not always better.
I came into this series not knowing anything about any of the gymnasts, and I was taken aback by MyKayla’s racism. I was also infuriated by the way it felt minimized here. She seemed more annoyed at having to talk about it than really offering an apology. Her apology tweet apologized for “offending people” and not the actual racism, and then in the episode she said she wished she could apologize to everyone without ever actually apologizing to anyone. It left me wondering why they included this part if they weren’t going to offer some reflection and sincerity about the topic and what she did. It was a weird choice to show this and to show her past if she didn’t intend to sit down, reflect on it in depth, and explain what she was doing to make it right.
This is the first thing in the series that I felt wasn’t handled well. They offer it up as MyKayla being polarizing. I don’t see it like that. She’s said and done racist things. She’s a good gymnast. She can be both. And the lazy, pouting apology was a waste of everyone’s time. Real apologies come with intent, an understanding of what was wrong about what they did, and actions to correct it.
If the intention was to let people make up their own minds, then maybe the filmmakers nailed it after all, because my mind is definitely made up.
Morgan was the star of this episode in every way.
The Olympic Mentality showed us who she is, what she stands for, and what makes her so damn special. The focus on her starts on her elbow and the fact that it’s locking up. It turns out that she has bone spurs and she needs another surgery to correct the issue. She’s more worried about the healing time than she is the surgery and already planning on practicing against doctor’s orders – which is what Suni chides her for during their phone call together. Her determination to practice is perhaps built around her anxiety as much as her love for the sport, an anxiety that she is also wonderfully candid about throughout.
When she was talking about how she worries about the littlest things I felt understood. She is me, and I am her. Or at least our anxieties align, which is close enough.
Anxiety has a way of making monsters out of parking situations, DMV visits, conversations with strangers, and not having a fixed idea of what to expect about a situation or event. It also makes us perfectionists about the things we feel we’re good at because we can control it. Control is an illusion, of course, because there’s always something outside of our control, but we try. Morgan uses gymnastics. I use words. It all comes down to the same thing – an attempt to survive our brains.
I love that she’s open about it, and I hope that it helps some other young person also struggling; makes them feel as seen as I felt.
The other thing that made Morgan a star this episode was the way that she took her anxiety, managed it, and went to the rally for Stop Asian Hate. The episode was filmed soon after the terrorist attack on the Asian community in Atlanta, and Morgan is clearly moved to action because of the senseless attack. She has complex feelings about her heritage. Being adopted means she doesn’t speak the language or have any attachment to the culture or food, but she still lives with the racism perpetuated against her. She claims she doesn’t feel like a real Asian and yet she still endures the slurs and aggressive hate all the same. She has to live between two worlds, and I appreciated her letting us see the balancing act between that and her conflict of identity.
It was fascinating to see her waking up her political spirit, in joining the community to stand as one, and making a clear statement that she can be both a competitor and an advocate of human rights. I’m impressed as hell by her, and I can’t wait to see how she shines as she grows more into her adulthood and figures out how she wants to direct her formidable mind and talents.
I don’t know if a documentary about the road to the Olympics can have a filler episode, but this did feel that way a little bit. I wanted more about the National Team of the past and the selection of today. I wanted to hear Dominique Dawes go in more about what she experienced, as well as Laurie Hernandez. They started to go in and pulled back a little, but what they did show was illuminating and heartbreaking. It’s a small complaint because the gymnasts continue to be interesting, compelling, and modeling some definite role model behavior.
Well, all but one, but she’s gotten enough space in this review. So instead, I’ll reiterate Morgan Hurd’s bravery and determination and wish her the best on whatever she chooses to do next.
Golden: The Journey of USA’s Elite Gymnasts is streaming on the Peacock app now.