Golden: The Journey of USA’s Elite Gymnasts episode five Trials focuses on the Olympic Trials selection, the question of what’s next for all of the gymnasts, and the love all of them have for the sport. It features, as seen in Now or Never, Morgan Hurd, Laurie Hernandez, Sunisa Lee, MyKayla Skinner, and Konnor McClain.
With dreams on the line, the gymnasts are finally at the point of being selected for the team and individual spots.
The episode delves in to the impact of the Olympics on the world and on the people who get to go to them as competitors. The Olympians who go know that they’re making history, so to have that dream broken, as is the case for Laurie and Morgan, is totally devastating. But it can also be the sort of thing that some athletes remember forever, a thing to cherish and proof that they were able to do what so many others don’t have the opportunity to do, like is the case for Suni and MyKayla.
It’s complicated; it’s destined to hurt more gymnasts than it brings joy to because of the limited nature of the team. It’s as complicated as the costs and trials that have surrounded the athletes as they’ve carved their path toward the trials and Tokyo.
Everything about this year of competition has built toward this episode. The journey to get there has been full of triumphs, shifts in perspectives, the unexpected, growth, change, and a whole lot of determination and persevering.
Above all, I learned that these gymnasts believe in what they’re doing and so do the people around them. The athletes might have a love/hate relationship with the sport, but they never waver on the truth that being elite is something that’s in their bones, basic to their DNA, and a thing that they wouldn’t give up for the world.
Those Who Most Believe
The people around the gymnasts got more time to shine in this episode and I think it was a really well done angle to take. As the gymnasts are more focused on their competitions and their heartbreak, we are all reminded of the love and support that surrounds them as they work toward being an Olympian.
All five of the gymnasts have people who root for them, who love them, who are in their corner and want nothing more for them to be able to achieve everything they’ve spent hours practicing, sacrificing, and learning for. And their messages to their loved ones, their support, and their faith are on display in a way that that ties up the previous themes of support, cost, and the power of having good coaches in your corner. It was a nice bookend to previous episodes and quite moving to have the people around them frame the triumphs and misses with that unwavering love and certainty that their gymnast is a champion.
As the series winds down, it asks the question of what’s next for all the gymnasts. Dominique Dawes talks how it’s a complicated feeling to be selected as an Olympian. You get to be elite, but when the competitions are over, what else is there? What do they do when the crowds have all gone home and there are not more medals to win? What do they do when their time as an elite gymnast is over? What things do they conquer when their lives have been built around practice, competition, and the ghost of the Olympics?
The episode makes the point that they work so hard and spend so much time focused on the goal that they often don’t have the time to contemplate what’s ifs and what could be next. For them, competing is fun, it’s difficult, and it’s a way of life. It’s something that consumes their youth and creates Olympians if they’re lucky enough.
What’s next is complicated. It’s maybe not answerable. And I’m glad that Golden doesn’t try to answer what’s next because the gymnasts themselves don’t know. It simply gives you the general sense that all of these young women, because of who they are and what they’ve built through gymnastics, will do whatever they want to do. They’ll find a way through even if there’s pain first before they get there.
Through numerous sacrifices, they’ve made their dreams work. Some managed to find their way to the Olympic stage and others didn’t, but they all carry with them the champion mindset that will mean whatever they do next will be done with intention.
Trials checks in with Konnor and her Olympic dreams since she didn’t compete in Championships or the Olympic Trials. She gets the chance to talk about her dreams, her hope for the future, and how she’s confident she’ll be at the Olympics in 2024.
She has a long road ahead of her, but she’s got the support and drive she needs, so if she’s lucky enough, she’ll definitely get there in the end. I believe her when she says we’ll see her again.
At the opening of the episode, Suni admits to the nerves and stress that surrounds her practice in the lead up to the Olympic Trials. She’s too in her head, too busy with scenarios to really let go of her thoughts and be as present as she needs to be. The stress is getting to her a bit, compounded with her desire to be on the team instead of going as an individual.
The hours of work she puts into all of her routines matters to her. She wants to be good enough in the all around. She feels like she surpasses being a specialist, and having seen her routines, I agree.
Following the vibe of the last episode and the community she mentions as part of her sport, Suni also mentions that she wants to make the team for the Hmong community, her coaches, her parents, and herself because she claims that, “getting there together would be incredible.”
So, of course she nails the Olympic Trials, in all areas, coming in second and automatically being selected for the Olympic Team. She proved she could do it, that she’s a true Olympian, and I was so proud to see her journey culminate with her triumph at the trials.
As seen in the previous episode, Laurie had to drop out of competition because of a hyper-extended knee. It’s one of those things that can’t be controlled, a bit of bad luck in a season that was honestly just getting started for her.
At the beginning of Trials, she lets out her frustration with people judging her even though she managed to get on the bar and work through the pain, performing better than most. Trolls n the internet call her wobbly and say that her comeback was a failure, but she doesn’t see it as failure. I love that she mentions this and how she views it as a success because she’s learned so much in the last year about what she’s capable of.
She ends up commentating at the Olympic Trials and she both hates and loves it. Hates that she wanted to be there as a competitor and make it to the Olympics but loves being able to support the other gymnasts on their journey there. Seeing her smile about the journey on the broadcast and then walk off with tears in her eyes made me tear up with her. She’s so fucking brave, and I have the upmost respect for her.
The most moving part of the episode, however, is the love and faith her parents have in her. The message they send to her is full of emotion, love, support, and belief, and is further proof that Laurie is a survivor that finds her way through situations with grace and determination.
Whatever she chooses to do next, I know I’ll be there supporting her, too.
Despite her setbacks with Covid, MyKayla manages to perform really well in the Olympic Trials, and ends up with an individual spot. Her hard work pays off and she gets to be an Olympian.
They also give her a really nice cut scene of all the build up of prior meets and practices. It comes down to a really nice vault and she manages to get selected on the strength of it. The build up is nice and her story of struggle ends on a happy note.
As Morgan’s coach Slava puts it, Morgan simply wasn’t ready for Championships. She made mistakes she normally doesn’t make and ended up not qualifying for the Olympic Trials.
Morgan gets a decent amount of screen time dedicated to talking about her disappointment, her regret, and her emotions now that the Olympics won’t be happening for her. She also mentions that she now has the world open to her – in both scary and cool ways.
She has options now that she is not pushing for the Olympics, and has to contemplate what her life might be like after gymnastics or if she wants to chose something else. She talks a little about how gymnastics is the only thing she’s ever known, the center of her life, and she doesn’t know what to do with that. She doesn’t know if she’d even be good at anything else or be able to make a career of something she picked in college.
As someone a little older, I know that she has so much time to figure out what she wants to do and if she wants to chase the next Olympics or not. Whatever she does, she goes after it with so much determination and spirit, so I have no doubt she’ll figure it out. Olympics or not, I get the feeling we haven’t heard the last of Morgan Hurd.
The Olympians have been selected, and the series has reached its conclusion.
I think that if anyone takes anything from the documentary it needs to be the fact that these athletes work really hard, go through an immeasurable amount of pain and injuries, and sacrifice a great deal of their lives just to have a one in six shot at the Olympics. The cost may or may not be worth it – that’s for them to decide – but the pursuit of their dreams is everything to them and that’s admirable to see. They work hard for it, and all of them deserve respect on their names.
Gymnastics has a rough history, isn’t perfect, and still has room for growth in a world where the gymnasts have suffered too many abuses, but every single young woman who follows the path believes in it and is willing to fight for it.
The road to the Olympics is filled with greater triumphs and tragedy than I was expecting, but it’s clear that all five of these young women are champions. They are the elite, and their story is far from over.
Golden: The Journey of USA’s Elite Gymnasts is streaming on the Peacock app now.