Golden: The Journey of USA’s Elite Gymnasts episode four Do It Yourself focuses on the aftermath. both physically and mentally, of the National Team Selection Camp and then the build up toward competing at the US Classic. It features, as seen in That Olympic Mentality Morgan Hurd, Laurie Hernandez, Sunisa Lee, MyKayla Skinner, and Konnor McClain.
Do It Yourself opens with Laurie Hernandez talking about how difficult it is to stay sunny and happy all the time when she’s naturally an introvert and as she’s dealing with the pain of not being chosen for the National Team. This perfectly sets up the theme of the episode, which is the mental challenges that go with being an elite gymnast and an overall champion.
There is a lot of pressure in gymnastics. Externally, internally. It’s a rough battle between what other people want, the pressures you apply to yourself, and the ability to overcome it all and perform at competition.
It means the highs are pretty high and the lows are pretty low, and it takes a toll. Like in previous episodes, this one allows the gymnasts to explain that space and the explore what being a champion means. They show Laurie’s and Konnor’s sadness and how they struggle to put Nationals behind them as they move toward the US Classic, all on top of the physical aspects of continuing to train and fight through the pain of falls and the rigors of practice.
I think showing that there is a cost to not being picked, that it’s harder than it seems to bounce back from that level of rejection, is pivotal in understanding all the things these young women do in order to reach the elite level and pursue their dreams of being an Olympian.
We all face rejection. It’s part of life, but we don’t all face it at such an elite level. To know that even Olympians struggle with it is humanizing and ultimately reassuring.
The US Classic and A Rough Start
Coinciding with the mental and physical aftermath of the National Team selection, Do It Yourself also focuses on the lead up to the US Classic. They make it clear that there are only really three competitions that matter this year and those are the US Classic, Nationals, and the Olympic selection. This is unusual for most Olympic years, where the gymnasts are typically given more time to hone and perfect their routines against the best in their sport. They have time to stretch their competing muscles and know what those routines look like under the pressures of everybody watching and the added adrenaline of competition.
But not this year. Not with the pandemic complicating things. Because of this truncated season, everyone is off their game when they get to the US Classic. All of the greats take a tumble or two, make careless mistakes, and look less like the precise, elite gymnasts that we all know they are.
There’s real worry within the framework of the competition and this episode that the US team might not be ready for the Olympics. (Though with Simone Biles there’s at least one shot at gold). The athletes aren’t at their best, and I think that it has more to do with the aftermath of training camp for our competitors, of course, but also a shift in their champion mindset. Everyone is still navigating the worries, anxieties, and physical insecurities of the season when we see them, and it’s keeping them from their full potential. It’s interesting to see that the pandemic is effecting them so much and to watch how they shift from gymnasts at their home gyms to people with that champion mindset.
Being A Champion is A Mindset
Around the anxieties, aftermath, and training for the US Classics, all of the gymnasts spend some time talking about the realities of what it takes to have the champion mindset, even if they don’t speak on it directly. Suni treats every training day as seriously as she can because it’s leading her to doing well in competition. Morgan knows she’ll fall and is determined to get back up again no matter how many times it takes. Konnor deals with her anxiety and maybe struggles with this mindset more than the others do. MyKayla finds the right combination on the high bars while Tom Forster assesses her after falling a dozen times before. Laurie works through her disappointment and puts in the hours to be the best. They all keep trying…keep putting in the work.
It’s cool to see how the gymnasts navigate their disappointments and anxieties, and how the filmmakers weave together the narrative of what makes a champion within the falls and low points. By the end of the episode it’s very clear to see that if the mind isn’t in the right place to compete, the body won’t follow.
As the youngest gymnast contending with the weird competition season, the lack of training camps, the odd maneuvering that’s happening within US Gymnastics, and not being selected for the national team, Konnor has a lot to navigate. The newness of it all hit her harder than the others and it’s plan to see she’s off her game.
This episode focused on her nerves, her anxiety, and the ways in which she struggles to maintain the champion mentality. She’s an excellent gymnast, but anyone would be rattled after this year. Add in her relative inexperience and youth, it’s difficult to find the champion mindset for her.
It was lovely to see her support system, however – to see the family she’s got supporting her and particularly the love of her sister, who returns from college this episode to cheer Konnor on at the US Classic. She doesn’t perform as well as she hopes at the US Classic – falling numerous times – but it’s clear that at the end of the day, she’ll have the support she needs to find a way to the Olympics one day.
This episode was defined by community in a lot of ways. The support that all of the gymnasts have and the communities they reach out to and claim. This was especially true for Suni.
She took us a bit into the Hmong community that she represents by birth and the episode delves into the way everyone in that community supports and loves her as if she were their own child. Suni also talks about the pressures of that support and the way in which it can hang heavy on her shoulders, but how she ultimately loves it. She loves being able to say that she’s doing it for them as much as she’s doing it for herself. Every performance she gives is to make them proud, and it shows.
Her family is also an important aspect of this episode. Her father’s accident that put him in a wheelchair is explained, as well as his hopes to one day stand again. Mostly, they show her love for him, the way he supports her, and the depth of her champion mindset. The day after he was paralyzed, still reeling from the newness of it all, she competed and she competed well. She came in second place behind Simone Biles, her thoughts on her father and her community. Maybe her champion mindset rests with her community and the need to make them proud.
If so, it’s working.
Laurie had fewer scenes in this episode, but I felt like her opening was really moving and powerful. She makes the statement that she doesn’t want to be smiling all the time and that’s it not easy for her to be as bubbly as she seems because she’s more introverted. She does it because it’s part of the work and part of cultivating a brand that will carry her through gymnastics and beyond. But it isn’t easy, and it’s sometimes very draining.
I really like that she was honest about it and willing to show that the emotional work is just as draining as all the hours she spends in a gym getting the flips and jumps right. It’s difficult to constantly have a champion mindset. It’s draining to always be thinking in terms of wins and losses and she’s pretty frank about that cost in a way the others aren’t.
The perspective is a necessary one, and I was grateful for her more experienced perspective.
MyKayla’s biggest scene was performing for Tom Forster. She lets her nerves get the better of her until pressure is applied. On her last attempt on the bars, she nails the routine, and is able to impress him with her growth and abilities.
It’s the same pressure she applies to herself as she heads to the US Classic, where she performs the night’s second hardest routine on the vault behind Simone Biles. It’s clear how she made the Olympic team, because when pressure is applied she excels.
Morgan’s commitment to getting back up after she’s fallen is spotlighted in this episode as part of what makes her a champion. She works through her elbow surgery aftermath, practicing before she really should, all while she continues to fight against the hate crimes being perpetuated against the Asian community. Her momentum toward being politically active continues from the last episode as she gives a speech at a rally in New York City. I like that it was continued and not dropped the second the filmmakers could. Social justice is an ongoing effort in our lives and an important part of Morgan’s growth, and I like that it’s becoming just as much a part of her story as the training and competing.
And she does really well at the US Classic. She shows up, puts in the work, and proves that she has the champion mindset and the desire to go as far she can for as long as her body will allow.
This episode focused more heavily on the emotional aspects of gymnastics and the cost of being a champion. It shows a world driven by anxieties, fears, and the build up of pressure that is a direct result of a truncated season backed by an Olympic year. It quietly asks the question of what makes a champion, and I feel like all of the gymnasts find a way to answer the question throughout, both overtly and covertly. Even if not all of them end up in the Olympics, the spirit of being a champion is clear in all the choices, trials, training, and overcoming of fear lives on in their efforts to get there. Overall, this episode was fascinating to watch, and the series continues to hit all the right notes.
Golden: The Journey of USA’s Elite Gymnasts is streaming on the Peacock app now.