“I'm really not that flexible. When I do my jumps for gymnastics, I only get into those positions because I'm relatively strong. It has nothing to do with flexibility.”
Why pose for the Body Issue?
It's a huge honor and a cool opportunity. I wanted to show that you don't need to be 13 or 14 years old to be a gymnast. You can be older and still have good results.
When I first got the offer I was a little nervous. But then I thought, "You've worn a leotard in front of a billion people; this isn't that different." Plus, I work out really hard and I'm proud of my body.
Have you ever felt self-conscious?
As a gymnast, you always wear spandex. Being a teenager wearing spandex? It was tough accepting how my body looked, especially if there was any weight gain. You're often standing in front of the mirror right before competition thinking, "God, I hope I don't look fat in this." Of course, once you are on the competition floor, you immediately stop focusing on those things.
It was probably right after I made my comeback -- after retiring post-2008 Olympics -- when I finally felt more at ease with my body. Being away from the sport helped put things in perspective. You realize, "Oh! In the real world, I'm not fat. I'm actually in shape." And as I've gotten older I learned to appreciate my body as it is; I learned how to work with it.
How has your body evolved?
My body has definitely changed a lot through my career. When I was trying out for my first Olympics at 16, my family and coaches tried to regulate what I ate. But the stricter they got, the more I rebelled. (I was kind of a brat in that aspect.) I wasn't in the best shape then, either. I learned that they were doing it to help me. When you're eating better you have better fuel for performance.
I like that my body is in shape and toned, and isn't too muscular. I feel I still have a woman's physique. I'm in better shape now than when I was at the last Olympics. Back then I had more muscle than I needed, extra bulk that weighed me down.
What's one thing that would surprise people about you as a gymnast?
I'm really not that flexible. When I do my jumps for gymnastics, I only get into those positions because I'm relatively strong. It has nothing to do with flexibility. I can do splits and touch my toes, but for a gymnast, I can barely move. It's always been a struggle. Believe me, I work on it. Nobody understands how I cannot be flexible and still have great jumps. Saddlesplits, oversplits, legs past the ear ... I watch little girls with envy doing this and think, "God, I wish I could do that."
-- Interview by Morty Ain