Olympic star Laurie Hernandez is back, and while she did not win the 2021 Winter Cup, her Hamilton-inspired floor routine was a show stopper in her first gymnastics meet since the 2016 Rio Olympics.
That's right—Saturday's competition marked Hernandez's first meet in 1,657 days.
The theatre fan's routine, which landed her in 11th place for the exercise (12.05), featured "The Room Where It Happens" from Hamilton. Hernandez first teased the floor routine on TikTok in January, sharing, "I had so much fun making this routine."
She also tweeted on Saturday that she's been listening to Hamilton's soundtrack for her warmup music, making the switch from "The Greatest Showman."
The 20-year-old also tallied the fifth-highest score on the balance beam (13.95), preparing herself for the more difficult spring and summer competitions ahead.
“It was terrifying to initially go back out there,” she said to NBC Sports. “Super watered-down routines so we could dip my toe back in the water and get the feeling of what it feels like to compete again at such a high level... I’m really excited about how today went, and I think it foreshadows a really good meet season.”
While taking a hiatus from the sport isn't uncommon because of how grueling elite gymnastics is on the body, there may have been darker reasons for the break. Hernandez's former coach, Maggie Haney, was banned by USA Gymnastics for eight years because of physically and emotionally abusing gymnasts like Hernandez and others. It was reduced to five years after Haney's appeal.
Hernandez left Haney after the Rio Games and moved to Los Angeles. She's now training under Jenny Zhang and her husband Howie Liang. USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour reported that prior to Hernandez's routine, Zhang noticed the young gymnast was struggling with a tumbling move in the floor routine and told Hernandez not to do it.
“She was like, `No, I want you to have a good time. I want you to hit and I want you to have a good time,’” Hernandez said. “She was hellbent on making sure that I enjoyed myself in my first meet back.”
As Hernandez threw her hands up to signal the end of her floor routine, the smile on her face showed that she was happy to be back.
“There was nothing expression-wise to choreograph," Hernandez said to USA TODAY Sports, "(because) I know that if I'm having a really good time, it's going to just fly out of my face."