Fred Richard during training ahead of the 2022 U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Aug. 17, 2022 in Tampa, Fla.
TAMPA, Fla. – Consider the strength and focus, not to mention skill, required to hold yourself up with your arms while swinging your legs in a circle around a pommel horse.
Now try holding yourself up on the pommels and swinging your legs around the apparatus while teammates throw foam blocks at you.
It’s the kind of challenge most people couldn’t dream of, which is exactly why it appeals to Fred Richard. The 18-year-old from Stoughton, Massachusetts, is set to make his senior debut tonight at the OOFOS U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Tampa, Florida, but he wants to make sure you remember him and his sport next week, and the week after that.
That’s why the self-described “freak of nature” spends what little time he has between training sessions coming up with new challenges, feats of strength and other gags that “show the different sides of gymnastics” for his TikTok, frederickflips, and its nearly 385,000 followers.
“If you think about our sport compared to basketball or football, they’re really competing every week and on TV every week, while we compete maybe two times a year on television,” Richard said. “So where do people actually see our sport and keep it in their heads?”
Social media is increasingly an avenue for athletes in Olympic and Paralympic sports to build a following. Just about every senior athlete in the national championships field this weekend has an Instagram account, and plenty have a Twitter, TikTok or YouTube channel, too.
Michael Jaroh, a Penn State gymnast who qualified for nationals but withdrew, is the social media star among American men’s gymnasts. More than 2 million people follow his TikToks about life behind the scenes as a high-level athlete in this grueling sport.
Richard’s videos often highlight the extreme athleticism of men’s gymnastics, but also the fun you can have on the side. The goal is to build up a following that resembles Jaroh’s.
“I feel like I can take it to a whole other level,” Richard said.
There’s just one little problem: Where does he find the time?
“This summer has been really hard training with all the competitions,” Richard said.
As the youngest guy in the senior field this week, Richard admits not many people are talking about him as a contender. Maybe they should be.
Still classified as a junior for international competition this year, Richard won the parallel bars and vault at an event earlier this year in Germany. Then, in July, he just about swept the Pan American Championships in Rio, defending his all-around title while adding four more golds, plus a silver and bronze. The only event he didn’t medal in was high bar, where he took fourth.
(A few days later a TikTok showed Richard performing gymnastics skills, sans shirt, as seven medals clanked around his neck.)