For Rio Olympic stars, spotlight hasn't faded


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A Brazilian appellate court has dismissed a criminal charge against American swimmer Ryan Lochte, who claimed he was robbed during the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Nearly one year ago, U.S. Olympians won gold, silver and bronze medals in Rio de Janeiro and captured the nation’s attention with stories of resilience, determination and fearlessness.

USA TODAY Sports revisits some of the biggest names in Rio to see how their lives have changed over the last 12 months.

Gymnast Hernandez keeps juggling

On the rare morning she gets to sleep in, Laurie Hernandez often finds herself wondering not so much where she is but how she got there.

A year ago, the country was just getting acquainted with the bubbly 16-year-old, the youngest member of the U.S. gymnastics team. Now she’s an Olympic champion and Dancing with the Stars winner, a crossover celebrity who has made the rounds of red carpets and talk shows.

“Life has been moving so fast,” Hernandez told USA TODAY Sports. “I can’t believe it’s almost been a year. I can’t believe my dreams came true.”

Hernandez won team gold as part of the USA’s “Final Five” and added a silver on balance beam. Her smile and personality — she was nicknamed “The Human Emoji” — made her one of Rio’s breakout stars, and her life has been a blur since.

She juggled her time on DWTS with a nationwide gymnastics tour. She published her biography, hung out with some of the cast members of Law & Order: SVU, her favorite TV show, and has crisscrossed the country making appearances.

Though she hasn’t been training — “my body and my brain just really needed a break” — Hernandez says she hopes to return to the gym at the end of the summer. She also has one more year of high school to finish, and then there’s college.

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There’s much to look forward to for someone who’s already accomplished so much.

“Our leotards, which seems a bit silly,” Hernandez said of her favorite memories from Rio. “We put a lot of thought into what leotards we wore at the Olympics. I don’t know why, but that’s one of the biggest things I remember. Just standing on the podium and taking everything in — including my leotard and my warm-up.”

— Nancy Armour

Muhammad capitalizes on her platform

Ibtihaj Muhammad helped the U.S. women’s fencing team win a bronze medal in the team sabre event and broke barriers by being the first American athlete to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab. A proud Muslim and African American, Muhammad has remained vocal about fighting discrimination since the Games.

“I always thought I would use my platform for good, and that’s been a goal of mine since the Games,” she said. “You use your platform, and you use your voice for those who may go unheard or those don’t feel comfortable speaking up.”

Muhammad studied international relations and African-American studies at Duke, where she was a three-time All-
American.

“I feel like that’s my calling, sports diplomacy, diplomacy in general,” she said. “That’s where I’ve felt at home off of the fencing strip, so it’s been wonderful for me.”

A native of Maplewood, N.J., she hopes to inspire kids in the USA and abroad and has been able to marry fencing and activism this summer.

In June, she traveled to Rwanda with Kids Play International to teach fencing to children who are still feeling the fallout of the 1994 genocide.

Muhammad is still competing and traveled to Germany for the 2017 world fencing championships in late July. She is not looking to retire but is enjoying having more time outside the sport. The 31-year-old is writing a memoir and a children’s series, running Louella, her fashion line for modest clothing, and taking on speaking engagements across the USA.

“I feel an immense amount of responsibility to be strong in this moment. I feel like there’s a test right now for me, not just as a woman, but as an African American, as a Muslim,” she said. “You have to not just be thankful, but be strong — not just for ourselves, but for one another.”

— Katherine Fitzgerald

Jorgensen fulfills dream

Winning the Olympics was Gwen Jorgensen’s goal. Having a baby was her dream.

She’ll do both in the span of a year.

The first American to win triathlon gold announced in January that she and husband Patrick Lemieux were expecting their first child, the baby due in early August. Those post-Olympic blues that some athletes experience? Jorgensen never had time for them.

“We bought our first home ever, which has been amazing but also hard work. It’s really kept us busy,” she said. “I thought this year, because of not traveling, having a baby, not racing, I’d have (free) time. But I found that I have less time. It’s pretty nuts.”

In the best possible sense.

Jorgensen and Lemieux had talked for several years about starting a family but put it on hold while she chased gold.

Disappointed by her finish in London, where a flat tire ended her medal hopes, Jorgensen spent the next four years in single-minded pursuit of the Olympic title in Rio. Lemieux gave up his career as a cyclist, and the couple became nomads, spending nine months in Australia and Spain so she could train.

It paid off in Rio, where she won gold easily.

“When I see my medal, I still smile, and it brings me joy,” she said. “It was an amazing day, and I’m very proud of that day and really thankful for all the people who helped me. … But I knew at the end of the day that race doesn’t make me who I am.

“For four years, I’d been putting on hold wanting to start a family and have a baby. To have that outside of sport has really allowed me to stay happy.”

Jorgensen had assumed that winning gold would satisfy her competitively, but she soon realized that wasn’t the case. And now there’s even more reason to keep going through Tokyo.

“It’ll be really motivating to have family on the sidelines while I’m racing,” she said, “and hopefully have a little kid that will be able to say, ‘Go, Mom!’”

— Nancy Armour

Maroulis embraces new role

Helen Maroulis became the first American woman to win gold in wrestling in the 53-kilogram weight class. She took down three-time defending Olympic champion Saori Yoshida of Japan, but upon returning home, Maroulis faced another challenge. Like many other athletes, she found herself struggling with post-Olympic depression.

“The year after Rio was kind of this ‘what now?’ What do you do when you’ve gotten everything you’ve ever wanted in life?” the 25-year-old said. “You realize it’s great, but what’s next? Do I want to keep chasing accolades or is there more to me than that?”

Maroulis took a break from competing and reevaluated. She checked in with sports psychologists, but also relied on her deep Christian faith. In November, she penned a personal essay for Sports Illustrated about anxiety. Though she cherished the opportunity to serve as a role model for women in wrestling, she found she was nervous about the responsibility that came with that.

“I just had this feeling that this is a lot more than I think it is — this is a lot more than having a gold medal draped around your neck. This is really going to hopefully change women’s wrestling in America and in the world, and I just wanted to handle that well, and I think I felt a lot of pressure,” she said.

“As a role model, I want to set a good example and hold myself to the highest standard, but I also want to be real and vulnerable.”

Maroulis is now back to competing. She recently spent time in the republic of Georgia, training with Vladimer Khinchegashvili, who won gold in the 57-kilogram weight class in men’s wrestling in Rio. She’ll train in the U.S. for a weeks before heading to Paris for the world championships. Despite facing unexpected trials after Rio, Maroulis looks forward to another Olympics run.

“I’m definitely out of it now. I love life again, and I’m thankful for everything I went through,” she said. “I’d say this was a huge growing year for me. I don’t think it’s what anyone expected.”

— Katherine Fitzgerald

Rhode pushes envelope

A double trap and skeet shooter, Kim Rhode became the first Summer Olympian — and just the second athlete ever — to win individual medals in six consecutive Games. The feat dates to her Olympic debut in 1996, when she was 17. Now Rhode, 38, will try to stand alone in the record books.

“I’m going for Tokyo 2020,” she said matter-of-factly.

A seventh consecutive medal would be monumental, but she might not stop there. After hearing the news of potential future Olympic host cities, the Los Angeles native said she might keep competing through 2028.

“I might have to stick around for that long. A hometown crowd is hard to beat,” she said.

Rhode hasn’t slowed since Rio. Two months afterward, she took the skeet title in the World Cup final in Rome. This season she has won two gold medals and a silver in World Cup competition.

At the end of July, she left for Moscow to train ahead of the world championships.

But Rhode’s accomplishments extend beyond the sport. She is working on building a shooting range in Southern California. Along with her husband, Mike, Rhode owns and operates a recording studio, and she’s taking time to travel with their trilingual 4-year-old son.

“The year after the Olympics … this is the year we do all that daredevil-type stuff. We go skydiving. We go skiing and snowboarding and really push the envelope,” she said with a laugh.

“I guess I’m a little bit of a thrill seeker.”

— Katherine Fitzgerald

Leyva taking ‘right steps’

Danell Leyva is right where he’s supposed to be.

The gymnast, who won two silver medals in the Rio Olympics after initially being an alternate, has turned his focus to acting. He moved from Miami to Los Angeles, appeared in an ad for Diesel’s Make Love Not Walls campaign and opened a production company, Parallel Entertainment.

“I’m literally doing so much within this world that … I know right now it’s not apparent and I haven’t booked a movie or anything like that. But I know I’m taking the right steps and doing the right things to book that movie,” Leyva said.

“This is what I’ve wanted to do for a really long time,” he added. “I know there’s a long way to go, but I’m really excited for it. Really excited.”

Leyva was the all-around bronze medalist in the 2012 London Olympics and considered a shoo-in for Rio. But he struggled in last year’s nationals and Olympic trials, as he was still recovering from leg and hand injuries he suffered while breaking up a fight between his family’s dogs.

Named an alternate, he got another chance when John Orozco blew out his knee. Leyva took silver in high bar and parallel bars.

“Before finals, I was starting to get really — I guess frustrated is the best way I could see it. I was trying to do everything overly perfect,” he said. “Two days before finals, my mom came to the village, and my girlfriend did as well. They were like, ‘Why are you stressing? You weren’t even supposed to be here, and now you’re in the finals.’ ‘Oh, that’s right.’”

Leyva’s silver medals gave him eight at the Olympics and world championships, tying him with Paul Hamm for the most by a U.S. man. Though he’s only 25, still young for a male gymnast, he knew he was ready to retire during the nationwide gymnastics tour he and the rest of the Olympians did after Rio.

“It was a confirmation that I really do want to be performing more than anything in my life,” he said. “When I moved out to L.A. officially and started making moves to get my acting career going, I don’t think I’ve ever felt this happy in my life.”

— Nancy Armour

Coburn says motivation has only grown

Emma Coburn became the first U.S. woman to medal in steeplechase, setting a U.S. record along the way. Her time of 9 minutes, 7.63 seconds was good for bronze.

“My emotions are less intense than a year ago, but I do still get a smile on my face when I think back to the race and the moments after the race with my family,” the Colorado native wrote in an email from London, where she is competing in the world championships. The final in women’s steeplechase is Aug. 9.

Her family would pay homage to her Olympic medal in their annual Christmas card. Coburn is quick to note that she would not have won a medal in Rio without her family and friends.

“What people rarely see from the outside is that the athlete’s support system sacrifices as much as the athlete,” she said. “Victories are earned together.”

In December she deepened the overlap between support and success, as she announced her longtime boyfriend and now fiancé, Joe Bosshard, would be her coach moving forward.

Rio was Coburn’s second Olympics. In 2012, she was Team USA’s youngest runner and finished ninth. Now 26, she looks to continue competing on the international stage.

“I still train hard, if not harder than before Rio. I still have big goals,” she said. “My day-to-day motivation and work ethic is just as strong, maybe stronger than before Rio.”

— Katherine Fitzgerald

D’Agostino celebrates act of kindness

Though she would not make it to the final of her event, Abbey D’Agostino became one of the most moving stories of the Rio Olympics.

The world stopped to watch as D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand both fell in the heats of the women’s 5,000 meters. D’Agostino stopped to help Hamblin up, and Hamblin returned the favor when D’Agostino’s knee gave out. Though the two had never met before, they finished the race together.

The moment cemented her Olympic legacy but also left her with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus. D’Agostino had surgery in September, but she is expecting it will take about 18 months before her knee is back to normal. She started training in March, but a sprained hamstring indicated she would need more time off.

“I’ve been given a lot of clarity about what my role is as a professional athlete. It is very much performance-based, and I have a job to do on the track,” said D’Agostino, who is a devout Christian. “The experience I had in Rio was night and day from what I expected, but it ended up providing such an incredible platform … to speak to sport as a vehicle for something more.”

D’Agostino is adamant that she would not change what happened in Rio. Still, she is looking forward to getting back to competing and hopes to race this fall.

When D’Agostino got engaged in June, Hamblin reached out to congratulate her. Though the two are not frequently in touch, D’Agostino thinks they will have a life-long bond.

“It’s an act of kindness, something very simple, but a connection between two people that involves sacrifice and love,” she said. “I just think that speaks to the human heart and the reality that we’re created to do those things, and that’s what really matters in life.”

— Katherine Fitzgerald

Eaton defines what’s next

The Rio Games marked the apex of Ashton Eaton’s athletic career. In Rio, the track and field star claimed his second decathlon gold, cementing his place in the sport’s annals, as he was the third man in Olympic history to repeat as champion in the demanding event.

And then he retired. Shortly after the conclusion of the Games, Eaton and his wife, Canadian heptathlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton, began reaching out to friends and colleagues in the sport for advice: What’s next?

They were told it would be difficult. You’ll miss the competition, the couple heard.

But Eaton hasn’t missed the competition; if anything, he has missed the competitors and, as his wife said this spring, “the community” of track and field.

Eaton, 29, has found different avenues to pursue in the early stages of his retirement.

Eaton and Theisen-Eaton got a dog. They discussed moving from their longtime home base of Eugene, Ore., to the Bay Area. In May, Eaton appeared on NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, where he had little difficulty navigating through a challenging obstacle course.

He has devoted his name to causes, including partnerships with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and World Vision, a global humanitarian organization.

In retirement, as during his athletic career, Eaton has found himself in search of another challenge. So what’s next for the greatest decathlete in the world?

“I think the key is setting really clear goals,” Eaton said during an interview in April. “The simple thing is track as the goal was very easy; it was just, ‘Win these meets.’

“In life you just have to pick your own. And when you accomplish it, I think you set another one. So there’s not an end. I don’t think there ever should really be an end. But defining that is probably the hardest part at first.”

— Paul Myerberg

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