God at the Olympics
I was fortunate enough that my career did work out exactly how I wanted. But there were many times I prayed at night, "God, what is the answer? What am I supposed to do? Am I meant to go to the Olympics? Should I keep training, or go to college instead?" I was constantly torn in so many directions. There is no doubt in my mind that I would never have been able to handle it all if I had not had faith in God.
A lot of people look at Mary Lee, and Jaycie [Phelps] and me. We were unique in that generation of gymnasts, in the way we would pray before competitions. We would ask each other, "What are you praying for? Do you want to win?" All this drama! But we mostly prayed to be safe, and to let people see our joy. We prayed that we could trust God and accept the outcome no matter what happened.
Accepting the outcome in advance is a tough thing to do when you're putting everything on the line, and you've worked 15-plus years, forty hours a week, and given up a lot, to almost let go of it, to say: "I trust in you, God, and I hope that our goals align here, but if not, it's going to be okay."
You mention letting people see your joy. Were there other ways in which you sought to express your faith on the competition floor?
Other than praying before every competition as a team, there were a lot of little things that mattered to me. My favorite Bible verse was Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
People laugh at me now when I tell them that I don't handle pressure well. They say, "How can you say that? You were in the biggest pressure situation anybody could ever be in, trying to qualify to the Olympics." But it really is true. I do not handle pressure well, and my answer for everyone is that I didn't have to handle the pressure. I went out and got to do what I loved, and I took the pressure off my shoulders and trusted God instead.
At the Olympics, one of my teammates had a bit of a breakdown about three minutes before we had to march out. I stood her up and said, "You know what? We have worked so hard for this. Not it's time to enjoy it and trust God."
As the team captain, I wasn't the most physically talented. I didn't have the best skills and wasn't going to score the highest. I had six amazing teammates. But that was the kind of leadership I could bring to our team. I could encourage my teammates that faith and trust in God can take some of the pressure away from the expectations of what team USA could do that year, and I could help them focus instead on simply doing what we love.
What was it like when you first arrived at the Olympics? What did it feel like?
The most stressful thing in my career was the Olympic Trials. When I qualified for the Olympics, the original feeling was that I did it, and I can't wait to get there.
We didn't stay in the traditional Olympic village. We stayed off campus. Being in our home country, we had some perks. But in general, the minute I got there, I wasn't there for 3 hours before I called home, homesick. My parents couldn't believe it. "You've got to be kidding," they said. "You've waited all your life for this, and you want to come home already?"