Although there are hundreds of star athletes in the top of their class competing at the Olympics, it’s important to remember that most Olympic athletes are still teens when they compete — especially in the beginning of their career. While the games are undeniably gruelling to train for, many of the young men and women that competed in the beloved sports have still found success in their post- gymnast lives today. As we celebrate the 2021 Olympics, let’s catch up with some iconic athletes of the past and where they are today.
1. Michael Phelps
At one point, there was nobody in the world that didn’t know the name of this swimming superstar. After setting a world record at the young age of 15, he continues to win a total of 28 medals. 23 of them were gold. After his retiring from the Olympics in 2016, Phelps became a steadfast advocate for mental health, starting the Michael Phelps Foundation and openly discussing his experiences with depression. He’s also been a commentator, including at this year’s Olympics.
2. Mary Lou Retton
At the 1984 Olympics, Mary Lou Retton won the individual all-around gold medal. She was 16 years old, and the first American female to win in the category, with jaw-dropping scores on vault and floor exercises. It launched her into mega-popularity in the 80s, and moved on to compete on shows like Dancing with the Stars. Her daughter McKenna was inspired by mom’s career, and in 2019, starting competing in gymnastics for Louisiana State University. Her mother was there in the stands, cheering her on with support.
3. Gabby Douglas
This shining star won the women’s all-around title in gymnastics at the 2012 Olympics. She was 16 years old, and part of the “Fierce Five.” Since then, Douglas’ career has flourished. She’s appeared on many TV shows (Masked Dancer, Undercover Boss), published 2 inspiring autobiographies. She also does important look as an activist for mental health and anti-racism in the world of gymnastics, after coming forward as a victim of Larry Nasser.
4. Tara Lipinski
Bringing it back to the old school, Lipinski was a young Olympic winner at the 1998 Winter Olympics, and yes, she still holds the title for bringing home the gold in gymnastics at that age. She beat Michelle Kwan after being the female gymnastic to ever land a triple loop-triple loop. After achieving those goals, she became a commentator with another famous skater, Johnny Weir, and has also worked as a commentator for NBC, covering the Olympic Games.
5. Laurie Hernandez
You might remember the beautiful starlet Laurie Hernandez back when she was 16 and on everyone’s radar. She was the youngest at the 2016 Rio Olympics to be part of the famous “Final Five.” Apart from winning a gold with her team, she earned a silver for the individual balance beam finals. Today, you can find her with a huge TikTok fanbase. She also commentates for Peacock, the free streaming serving by NBC, for the Tokyo Olympics, She also appeared on shows like Dancing with the Stars and American Ninja Warrior Junior, but also has plans to attend college.
6. Kyla Ross
In 2015, Ross, hailing from Southern California, won a gold in 2012 with the “Fierce Five.” The athlete was only 15 at the time. Unfortunately, she didn’t win any individual events in 2012, but did go on to continue competing with UCLA gymnastics for the next 8 years. As of last year in 2020, she’s now on the program as an official assistant coach. The same year, she was named Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year. Oh, and she’s also earning a degree in molecular, cell, and developmental biology. What a role model!
7. McKayla Maroney
When she was 15, she earned a silver medal, but was made into millions of memes due to her dissatisfied expression at the win. Her vault score was higher than all of her teammates, at 16.233, but she didn’t exactly look happy with the result. Recently, McKayla has bravely come out about the abuse she experienced as a gymnast, relating to Britney’s story in trying to gain control over her life and end her conservatorship. Maroney also has a thriving acting career, making appearances on popular shows like Hart of Dixie and Bones.
8. Dominique Dawes
Dawes won medals on 3 different Olympic gymnastics teams. At 16 years old, she started in Barcelona at the 1992 games, becoming the first Black person to win an individual medal in the gymnastics. In 2000, she made an epic comeback, winning another 4 medals. Now, she runs a gymnastics and ninja gym in Maryland, and ex- POTUS Barack Obama even appointed her as co-chair of his Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition when he was in office.
9. Kerry Strug
At only 14 years old, she was the youngest Olympian to play at the 1992 Olympics. Strug quickly became a household name after she managed an impressive vault — even with a badly injured ankle. Her hard work got her a gold medal for Team USA, and she was America’s Sweetheart after that. Today, her work looks very different. After earning a master’s degree in sociology at Stanford, Strug now works for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in D.C. and wrote an autobiography,
10. Shannon Miller
Shannon Miller’s first Olympics took place in 1992 at the age of 15. She led Team USA to gold victory and was a proud member of the ‘Magnificent Seven” in 1996. Behind Simon Biles, Miller is the second most awarded American gymnast. Now, she’s a motivational speaker for women’s health and a cancer survivor, going through ovarian cancer at just 33 years old.