Foberg has yet to compete after tearing ligaments in her ankle in a competition
late last season. “It’s nice to have her around because she’s just a chill kid, and she stays like that in competition
, meanwhile, describes herself as goofy. Once they go home, though, athletes like Simone Biles or Gabby Douglas find no peers in their gyms.For Laurie Hernandez
and Jazmyn Foberg, the competition
continues. to train on better equipment in a bigger space.She’s calm but disciplined.
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HAMILTON, N.J. ? Once a month, the best female gymnasts in the country convene at the Karolyi ranch in Texas to participate in camps that have helped fuel the Americans’ dominant run for more than decade. Once they go home, though, athletes like Simone Biles or Gabby Douglas find no peers in their gyms.
For Laurie Hernandez and Jazmyn Foberg, the competition continues. The two first-year seniors compete together for MG Elite, a team that thanks to their success has taken the past two U.S. junior titles.
With selection for the Rio Olympics only months away, coach Maggie Haney finds herself in the rare and enviable position of having two gymnasts in contention to make the five-woman team. Gone are the days when super gyms would contribute several athletes to the team, so Haney’s success is unique in a system that nurtures talent development around the country.
With Haney’s guidance, Hernandez and Foberg support each other in a way that has allowed them both to excel at the elite level.
“When they’re both healthy and both at their best physically and mentally, they definitely kind of in a nice way battle it out each day in the gym,” says Haney. “They’re always helping each other.”
Though they find themselves in a similar place now, they’ve taken different paths to the senior elite level. Hernandez, who turns 16 in June, has been with Haney since the beginning when Haney’s sister spotted Hernandez in a class and suggested Haney take her on.
Always an energetic kid who loved to dance, Hernandez quickly progressed through the levels. By the time Hernandez was 9, when she was one of the best gymnasts nationally in the TOPs program, Haney knew there was potential. She got Hernandez into developmental camps at the ranch when she was 10 and she’s been making the monthly trips to Houston since.
Foberg, meanwhile, came to MG Elite just three years ago. A level 10 gymnast, she felt she had maxed out at her gym but wanted to get to the elite level. Haney was skeptical.
“I came here, Maggie, she’s like, ‘We could try elite. I’m not sure if you’re going to make it,” says Foberg, who turned 16 in February.
Her form was sloppy, they agreed, and her dance was not good. Foberg lacked consistency, pretty much a holy tenet of the program national team coordinator Martha Karolyi has built.
“I didn’t really see the talent, to be honest,” Haney says. “But she has good legs. She’s very strong and powerful. She can swing bars naturally. She just kind of had to learn, so she is now a very good bar worker.
“She was just so hungry for it. She just worked circles around everyone.”
Both gymnasts credit Haney with their success. A former gymnast at N.C. State, Haney started coaching in 2000 shortly after college and started her own team, MG Elite, in 2007.
The team trains in Monmouth, N.J., but three days per week, Haney rents space at another gym an hour away to allow Hernandez, Foberg and Riley McCusker ? a University of Florida commit who recently reached the elite level ? to train on better equipment in a bigger space.
She’s calm but disciplined. Things done right don’t catch her eye as much as errors, but even those are handled with equal parts toughness and encouragement.
“Maggie always just knows what to do to put us in good spots, so I think that’s why we are where we are,” Hernandez says.
For all Haney can do to guide her two top gymnasts, though, it’s the competition and support from each other that pushes them.
During a practice in March, as Hernandez struggled, Foberg offered words of encouragement. As Foberg dealt for several months with torn ligaments in her ankle, Hernandez was there to support her.
“We always give each other little tips here and there,” says Foberg. “She’s like my best friend, so she’s fun to be around and we always hang out.”
Adds Hernandez, “I think we motivate each other every day.”
That comes despite their differing personalities. They describe Foberg as the more serious one. She’s mature and observant, says Haney, and persistently calm.
“She does not get frazzled,” Haney says. “It’s nice to have her around because she’s just a chill kid, and she stays like that in competition.”
Hernandez, meanwhile, describes herself as goofy. Haney says she can be hyperactive. And to watch her on floor exercise is to see her ooze charisma.
“She likes to perform and she loves when everybody’s watching her,” Haney says. “The bigger the crowd, probably the more sassiness she is going to have.”
Until the Olympics came on the immediate horizon this season, Haney only discussed them with Foberg. Knowing the path ahead worked better for her. With Hernandez, looking too far ahead was too much and she trusted her coach to manage the path there.
Despite their differences, they describe each other as best friends.
“They definitely feed off each other in a good way when they’re both at their best,” Haney says.
That has led them to become some of the best. After not qualifying for U.S. championships in 2013, Foberg competed in two meets in 2014 before winning the junior national title.
Hernandez was out with a dislocated knee cap and torn tendon, but returned in 2015 to win the competition. Foberg finished second.
“It was probably one of my best, most fun coaching days, for sure,” Haney says.
That success has propelled them into this season, their first as seniors. Foberg has yet to compete after tearing ligaments in her ankle in a competition late last season. She is expected to recover in time for nationals and trials this summer. She hopes her uneven bars and floor routines could help her contribute.
“She’s a pretty confident competitor, so I don’t really feel she needs much more competition experience,” said Haney.
Both have been consistent over the past year, but it’s a good start to the season that could put Hernandez in position to make the U.S. Olympic team.
She’s placed third in the all-around at the City of Jesolo Trophy in March and the Pacific Rim Championships last month. She didn’t make it to the podium in the latter because of the two-per-country rule, but Hernandez finished .1 points behind Fierce Fiver Aly Raisman.
The transition has come as she’s been competing alongside the likes of Biles, Douglas and Raisman, who are favored to make the team, in camps and competition.
With already high execution scores, Hernandez will look to upgrade the difficulty on her bars and beam routines.
U.S Trials are in July, and both will be 16. Trying for the next Olympics isn’t impossible, but, in a sport that favors youth, Hernandez and Foberg are trying to capitalize now.
“Right now, they’re still new and fresh and young and naïve and relatively not beat up, so I think that we have to go for it and put everything in and then see where we end up,” Haney says.
“It’s double the stress is all I can say right now.”
Haney can’t think through the scenarios of how selection could go. She knows Karolyi has been impressed with Hernandez and Foberg’s consistency, and she can only hope what they do over the next several months will put them in a position to make the team.
“I think you just have to prove yourself,” she says. “As we get to the home stretch, it’s really going to be your past competition experience that will matter, for sure, but I think what’s going to matter the most is who really looks good in the end.”