By Scott Malone
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Fresh from winning the team gold medal and Simon Biles’ historic first-place performance in the all-around competition, the U.S. women’s gymnasts stepped into the media glare on Friday looking a bit shellshocked by the attention.
“I’m looking forward to going home and seeing my family and being in my house and everything, just being in a home,” said 19-year-old Biles, when asked what she was most anticipating after Rio.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll just go on lockdown in my house,” said Biles, of Houston. “It won’t be exactly normal but we’ll make it as normal as possible.”
Normality could be hard to achieve in the next few months for the five athletes in their teens and early 20s, warned Aly Raisman, the 22-year-old captain of the team.
Raisman, who finished behind Biles in the all-around to clinch individual silver, was part of the squad that won the team gold in London in 2012 and remembers the whirlwind of attention that followed.
“It’s very exciting and very crazy. I’ve told them a lot about it,” said Raisman, who lives outside Boston. “Back in the States everyone’s going to be taking photos and asking for our autographs and it’s very surreal.”
In a long-beloved ritual for U.S. Olympic champions, Kellogg’s said on Friday that the faces of Biles and her team mates would appear on boxes of Special K breakfast cereal.
The team were on the first of two rest days before the competition resumes on Sunday with the women’s uneven bars and vault final.
“I just want to be up on the podium and finish with a good bar set,” said Gabby Douglas, 20, who was also part of the 2012 gold-medal-winning team. Asked how she maintained her focus despite the distractions of 10,000 athletes and hundreds of thousands of fans, the Virginia Beach native said, “You kind of just stay in your own bubble.”
Team mate Madison Kocian, a 19-year-old for Dallas, also had her sights set on the upcoming events.
Success can be fleeting in gymnastics, with most athletes’ careers over by their mid-20s, but at least three months of applause await the group, who embark on a 36-city tour of the United States after the Games.
“I feel like our schedules are just getting built up every day,” said Laurie Hernandez, of Old Bridge, New Jersey, who at 16 was the youngest of the group. “We just go wherever they tell us to.”
(Reporting by Scott Malone, editing by Neil Robinson)