Q&A: Olympic gold medalist and UCLA freshman Jordyn Wieber
With the Sochi Winter Olympic Games beginning in Russia, we catch up with Jordyn Wieber, a member of the “Fierce Five,” the gold medal-winning U.S. women's gymnastics team that won America’s hearts (and social media feeds) during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. She was also part of the U.S. team that won the 2011 World Championships, where she was crowned the 2011 World Women's All-Around Champion. Now a UCLA freshman, an Adidas-sponsored professional and manager of UCLA’s women’s gymnastics team, she made time between her own private training, team practice and a full course load to speak with UCLA Today writer/photographer Christelle Nahas for this edited Q&A.
Jordyn Wieber (second from the left) struck gold at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, along with her teammates on the U.S. women's gymnastics team. She's now a psychology major at UCLA where she trains privately and serves as manager of the UCLA women's gymnastics team. Photo by Getty Images
The months after the 2012 Olympics seemed like a media firestorm. At 16, what was that time like for you?
It was a lot of fun. We did so many appearances and fun things; it was a crazy, crazy time. We went straight from London to New York and did a bunch of TV appearances and shows.
Is it true that at one event, Katy Perry kissed your bicep?
Yeah (laughs). I think that was my favorite part of that time, just meeting a bunch of famous people. "Teen Wolf" is my favorite TV show, and when we went to the VMAs [MTV Video Music Awards] I got to meet the whole cast.
Going pro last year meant that you wouldn’t be able to compete at the collegiate level. Why come to UCLA?
Wieber performs before Olympic judges. Photo by John Cheng.
I originally had my heart set on going to UCLA for gymnastics, and I developed a relationship with Miss Val [head coach Valorie Kondos Field] through the recruiting process. When I decided to go pro, Miss Val said I would still be able to be a part of the team. I was fortunate that she allowed me to do that. And I just love being in L.A., the weather and everything. It’s a great place. We learn so much here at UCLA, not just in sports, but also in our lives outside of gymnastics.
After the 2012 Olympics, you announced that you’d been competing with a stress fracture throughout the competition. Now that you’re training again, are you planning to return to the national team?
After the Olympics, I was contemplating whether to keep going with the sport or not, and literally a week later, I was ready to get back in there because I still love the sport so much. So I went back into the gym to train. Then I decided to start school and see what my plan was from there. So that’s what I’m doing. I train here at UCLA before the team trains — I can’t officially train with the team because of NCAA rules. Once I have my eyes set on a competition I’ll start picking it up a bit. I’m still deciding when that’s going to be. I’ve been working on different things here and there. The point system in elite gymnastics has changed a bit, so I’ve been learning a few new combinations on beam and a couple new things on bars, but we’ll see.
Do gymnasts try to keep their routines secret from the competition?
Not necessarily. Nothing is set in stone until you step on the competition floor and you’re doing the skill. Usually we don’t talk about our routines because it could change at any moment.
Between your training schedule and classes, how’s it going so far?
There are so many different ways for us as athletes to get help with our academics. We have an academic counselor who helps us choose our classes, mentors we can go talk to, tutoring … It’s been really helpful. The first quarter went really well, just getting used to the whole college scene. It’s a lot different from what I’m used to, but it’s been good. I’m taking a lot of cool classes. I’m a psychology major so I’m excited to take those classes.
Do you feel like you’re experiencing authentic college life?
Wieber is interviewed by a commentator from the Pac-12 Networks at UCLA gymnastic team's first home meet this season. Courtesy of UCLA Athletics.
Yeah, pretty much. It’s a little different being … almost a student athlete, training here and going to school at the same time. It’s a little different than what the typical student would experience, but I actually like having practice to go to every day. It’s just always been a part of my life. I wanted to have a normal college experience, so I’m staying in the dorms, rooming with one of my teammates. So it’s been really fun. We usually walk to Westwood, do things like shopping, movies, get our nails done.
What does being a team manager entail?
I am basically just like one of the girls on the team except that I don’t compete. I can’t coach; it’s not my job on the team. When it comes to competition, I help move mats and give pep talks … anything that I can do to help the team. I’ve had a lot of experience competing so if they need advice, that’s something I can contribute to the team — like learning how to stay calm in competition.
You’ve said competition is your favorite part of gymnastics. Is it hard to sit on the sidelines at meets?
It’s a little bit hard. But [collegiate gymnastics is] also a little different from elite gymnastics. It’s more of a fun, relaxed atmosphere, which is really cool. But it’s very different from what I’m used to. It is kind of a bummer, but I’m glad I get to be a part of it even if I’m not competing. My sacrifices [in eligibility] have given me a lot of great opportunities.
You trained with the same coaches in Michigan (John and Kathryn Geddert) since you were 4 years old. What’s it like training under UCLA coaches?
It was very different coming out here and having new coaches, but I really like it. I’ve enjoyed working with Chris Waller (associate head coach), Randy Lane (assistant coach) and Miss Val. Chris is an awesome technical coach. He’s really good at motivating you in a way that gets you excited to work out. And I’ve known Randy for so long; he used to live in Michigan and coach Michigan State. So it’s awesome to be back around him.
How do you feel about UCLA gymnastics and the road ahead this season?
The team is doing really well. We had a good start against Florida. We actually lost by a quarter of a tenth, which is like nothing. It’s the difference between pointing your toe and flexing it. But we were really proud of that start. This team has so much potential, not just gymnastically, but we’re also a very bonded team. You can tell that this team has so much chemistry, and we really work well all together. That really contributes to the success of this team.
Catch Wieber on the sidelines as UCLA Gymnastics returns to Pauley Pavilion on Saturday, Feb. 8, to take on Arizona State University at 12:30 p.m.