(L-R) Jordyn Wieber, Kyla Ross, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Gabrielle Douglas of the U.S. women's gymnastics team pose at the Olympic Media Lounge at Westfield Stratford City on August 8, 2012 in London.
If the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions was supposed to be a retirement tour, nobody told Jonathan Horton.
The captain of the 2012 U.S. Olympic men’s gymnastics team — and, at 26, the only 2012 U.S. Olympic gymnast older than 20 — not only plans to return to the highest level of the sport, but he also plans to practice the pommel horse when not performing on tour.
“It’s not in the show,” he said of the apparatus that has plagued the U.S. men, especially at the 2012 Games, “but we requested to have a pommel horse set up backstage so we can train on it for three months.”
Make no mistake about it, though, the next two months are a time for the United States’ top gymnasts — most notably the “Fierce Five,” members of the gold-medal winning women’s team in London — to enjoy themselves and to show fans that, as Horton says, “they are more than just gymnasts; they are performers.”
The 40-stop national tour fittingly kicks off Saturday at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., the same arena where the U.S. gymnasts fought for Olympic Team berths at the U.S. Olympic Trials from June 29-July 1. After that, the gymnasts are on the road until the Nov. 18 finale in Brooklyn, N.Y.
For those expecting a dry evening of watered-down gymnastics routines, however, the gymnasts say that couldn’t be further from the case.
The U.S. gymnasts, including members of the 2012 and 2008 Olympic teams and up-and-comers, have been putting in 12-hour days in Ontario, Calif., to prepare for what Horton says will be “a different show than I think anyone has ever seen.”
Though specifics aren’t being made public until the first show, all three Olympic gymnastics disciplines will be showcased — artistic, rhythmic and trampoline — as will acrobatic gymnastics, professional dancers and even Cirque du Soleil. Nastia Liukin said to expect “songs the crowd will know” and added, “The lighting is what really makes the show, in my opinion.”
“I think what’s really cool about it is it’s not just gymnastics,” said Liukin, the 2008 Olympic all-around champion, who is performing and also is on the event’s creative team. “There’s a lot of different aspects to it that make it fun and exciting.”
Though the cast will change by show depending on availability, most of the gymnasts from the 2012 Games will be involved, including Gabby Douglas and all of her “Fierce Five” teammates who won Olympic team gold in London. Horton’s Olympic teammates Jake Dalton and John Orozco are also taking part. In addition, Liukin and fellow 2008 Olympians Chellsie Memmel and Alicia Sacramone will be involved, as will 2012 U.S. Olympic rhythmic gymnast Olympian Julie Zetlin and Olympic trampoline gymnasts Steven Gluckstein and Savannah Vinsant.
Life has been especially hectic for the women, who won Olympic team gold for the first time since the “Magnificent Seven” did so in Atlanta in 1996. Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman flew to New York earlier this week for an appearance on morning show “LIVE! with Kelly and Michael.” Then the entire Fierce Five took some time off to introduce Alicia Keys at Thursday night’s MTV Video Music Awards (Olympic all-around champion Douglas also performed some gymnastics moves during Keys’ performance).
For the most part, though, the cast has been locked down in Ontario rehearsing. And that is just fine for Horton. After four years of training and expectations of a gold medal, followed by a disappointing fifth-place finish in London, the tour is exactly what he needed.
“This is our reward,” said Horton, a two-time medalist from the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, “to be able to come here and learn the show and just to get to spend so much time together without the pressure.”
Having that time together is rare for the gymnasts. Though the Olympic team members appeared on TV together constantly during the Games, most live in different parts of the country are only see each other at big competitions and training camps.
“It’s fun to watch them in person when they compete because they are in such a zone,” Horton said of the women’s team. “But when you get to know them, McKayla Maroney is a big goofball; Gabby Douglas is always smiling, energetic. Even Kyla (Ross), who seems very held back and reserved … she is always joking and having a good time.”
The gymnasts have had fun with Maroney, whose disappointed expression on the Olympic vault medal stand (she was heavily favored but fell and finished second) was captured in a photo and turned into a popular Internet meme dubbed, “McKayla is not impressed.”
“We joke with McKayla all the time about the faces that she makes,” Horton said. “We all joke and harp on each other quite a bit. That’s part of the relationship that everybody here in this cast kind of has.”
For most of the gymnasts, however, the Kellogg’s Tour is just a break before they return to the gym in earnest. None of the 2012 Olympians have ruled out competing in the future, and some have confirmed their plans to return right away in 2013, Horton among them.
“I’ve always wanted to be able to call myself a world champion,” Horton said. “Ultimately, I want to make it to the 2016 (Olympic Games) in Rio.”
One of the gymnasts who won’t return to competition, however, is Liukin. The five-time medalist from Beijing attempted to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team in balance beam and uneven bars, but her competitive career came to an end at the Olympic Trials in San Jose 10 weeks ago.
Liukin remains involved with gymnastics, notably as an athlete representative for the Federation of International Gymnastics and as a partner in the Nastia Liukin Cup, a domestic youth gymnastics competition. She also has worked with NBC and NBCOlympics.com.
Come December, however, she will transition from gymnast to student when she enrolls at New York University. She said she is hoping to study sports management, but that she also would like to explore more opportunities in broadcasting and fashion.
“I think being in New York City is going to be the perfect place for those three years,” Liukin said, who was sure to add that she wants to return home to Dallas upon graduating.
It is certainly a new era for Liukin. Four years ago she was the one with the hectic post-Olympic media blitz and performing on the national tour. For those going through it the first time, she has some simply advice.
“I really think that for everybody, and the five girls included, you have to enjoy every single moment of it,” Liukin said. “Because as soon as the tour is done, it’s like ‘Oh wait, back to real life.’ …
“You are doing something you love, traveling across the country with your friends. Really try to enjoy everything.”