We recently chatted with first-year senior Riley McCusker, whose poised and polished routines have garnered her many fans in the gymnastics community. Coached by Maggie Haney at MG Elite, McCusker definitely has a bright future ahead, and in this interview she describes her upgrades, competition goals, and new floor routine.

Inside Gymnastics: How is your training going? 
Riley McCusker:
My training’s going really well right now. We’re building up to full routines and getting ready for the February selection camp.

Inside: How have the national team camps been going?
Riley: They’ve been going really good! I’ve only gone to two camps as of now, so I just started going, while the other girls have been going for much longer. But I love being there. I like the training and seeing all the girls.

Inside: Are you excited to be a senior now?
Riley: Yes, I’m really excited to be a senior!

Inside: What do you think will be the most different now that you’re a senior competitor?
Riley: I didn’t really get a lot of junior experience at all. I just qualified elite (in 2016) and have only competed in Classics and Championships one time. So as a senior, I’m definitely hoping to have a lot more competition experience.

Inside: When will your next competition be? Is the American Cup a possibility for you, or the Jesolo Trophy?
Riley: Right now, I would really like to get the American Cup; that’s what we’re training for. But my main goal this year is to get an international assignment; since I have never competed internationally before.

Inside: Are you working on any upgrades or new skills for this season?
Riley: Yes, I have upgraded all four of my routines this year. I have upgraded my bars and beam by almost one point each! I am also planning to compete a double twisting yurchenko this season.

Inside: What are your goals for 2017 and your long-term goals?
Riley: Maggie keeps hinting at different competitions for this year like, maybe Worlds, but I can’t think that far out yet!

Inside: So you haven’t really thought about the 2020 Olympics?
Riley: Oh, well, yeah… I have definitely thought about that…

Inside: Your floor routine incorporates elements of ballet and powerful tumbling and such unique choreography; how did you become so well-balanced in all the different areas?
Inside: Well, Maggie does our choreography. I was actually a pretty awkward dancer before I came to her. It was bad! But she picked a style of music and dance that she felt goes best with my personality and then we just work on it every single day to make the routine really clean and pretty. This routine did not come together very easily. She had to recut the music like 5 times!

Inside: Will you debut a new floor routine this year?
Riley: Yes, I will!

Inside: Could you describe the style of this one?
Riley: This one’s… kind of like a sassy ballerina! Ballet gone MG Elite style!

Inside: What are some of your favorite competition memories?
Riley: My favorite competition memory is probably [being] out there on the podium for the first time at Classics. And then, of course, making National Team at P&Gs—that felt like a dream come true.

Inside: Who are some of the gymnasts that you admire most?
Riley: I have always admired Kyla Ross, because she always had such good execution and clean lines, and that’s what I strive for. That is kind of the theme of our gym.

Inside: What is your favorite apparatus?
Riley: It depends on the day, but I really like bars.

Inside: What is your favorite leotard you’ve ever worn?
Riley: I loved the pink/orange leo we wore on the first day of [2016 P&G] Championships, with the crisscross back.

Inside: You come from MG Elite, which is obviously one of the top elite gyms in the country right now. Could you tell us about what’s it like to train there, training alongside Laurie Hernandez?
Riley: It was incredible training alongside Laurie last year. Every day, she just motivated me so much [seeing] her go through the Olympic process, [because] that’s what I want to do in a couple years. Now I know what to expect and I watched someone from my own gym accomplish the ultimate goal; so I know it is possible with my training.

My practices are very detailed-oriented. Our team is super small so it’s calm and quiet in the gym and my coach never misses a turn I take. At MG Elite, we really strive for having an international quality to our gymnastics.

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Anna Rose Johnson writes about women’s artistic and rhythmic gymnastics. She loves Whippets, brownies, and full-twisting double layouts. Her writing portfolio can be viewed at: https://annarosejohnson.contently.com