by Anna Rose Johnson
Amanda Borden tumbled her way into the elite gymnastics spotlight in 1992, making a strong case for herself as she geared up for the Barcelona Olympics. She just missed making the team, but continued on with her sights set on 1996. The rest is history—the Magnificent Seven soared to a gold medal-winning performance in Atlanta with Amanda as team captain. We recently caught up with her to discuss her current life as a mom, coach, and commentator.
Inside Gymnastics: What have you been up to lately?
Amanda Borden: I would say I’m at a pretty busy stage of my life. I have three kids—a 9-year-old daughter, a 6-year-old son, and a 2-year-old son, so that alone keeps me definitely on my toes. I own two gymnastics schools in the Phoenix area, and I also commentate gymnastics for Pac-12 Network as well as a variety of other stations. I was at the Olympics commentating NBC radio, and I also commentate cheerleading, so I do that throughout the year as well.
Inside: Could you talk about commentating and what that whole process is like?
Amanda: When I was a gymnast, I had mentioned a few times that I would be interesting in commentating someday. So right after the Olympics, when I was 19, CBS Sports came to me and asked me if I would commentate a cheer competition, and I had never been around cheerleading. It was…a little stressful my first time, because I didn’t really know the sport yet. And it was my first go in television and that was back in 1997. With a lot of great mentors in this business, I feel like I’ve had so many people help me and guide me and teach me and help me learn along the way, and I would say now it’s a job that I sometimes can’t believe I get paid to do because it’s so much fun. Gymnastics and cheer (which are very similar) are two of my favorite sports to watch, and I really have an appreciation for the athletes, and I really try to make sure that comes across when I am commentating. I get to work with really amazing people, and stay in touch with pretty much all my friends around the country in the sport of gymnastics.
Inside: Would you ever consider coaching elite gymnasts, is that something that you would like to do?
Amanda: I had a gymnast venture into the developmental program a few years ago, that was her goal, and I’m not opposed to coaching that direction. I think for me, the whole reason I coach is because I have such a great appreciation for my coach and what she did for me personally. I think one of the greatest things about coaching is just having the opportunity to help somebody else’s dreams come true. So right now I don’t have any athletes I’m coaching that know their number one dream is to be an elite gymnast or go to the Olympics, but I never say never to anything because I don’t coach for my own personal goals. I coach to help the goals of the girls I get to work with come true.
Inside: So it’s been over 20 years since Atlanta ’96…what are some of your favorite memories from that experience?
Amanda: This year, I think, was really special. In fact, my husband and I were just reminiscing through the holidays as 2016 came to end. We were like, wow, what an incredible year filled with old friends and great memories and experiences that a lot of people never get to have. I think it was really special because it made us relive a lot of our experience 20 years ago, and I would say what I really gained from last year, going through everything, was just how much I appreciated the journey of being an Olympian. The ups and downs, the tears and smiles, and the relationships that I built through that. Obviously my coach Mary Lee Tracy is still one of the closest people in my life, a friend and a mentor, and of course still my coach. And my teammate Jaycie Phelps, [who is] definitely like my sister…we just shared so many things together that just makes us have that unique relationship. So many of my teammates on that team were my role models, people that I admired and looked up to, who [later on] became great friends. So I think that whole journey is what I remember the most.
People still ask me my favorite moment of the Olympics, and I have to say just standing on the awards stand and seeing the flag, hearing the national anthem. I had been on so many different World Championships teams, but we always took second or third, so I never got to be on the stand and hear our national anthem in a major competition. That’s something I’ll never, ever forget. Even when I watch the Olympics as a fan, when that happens, it’s like I’m getting to relive my moment every time. It’s one of those things that you continue to remember so many small things all the time, and it’s just an incredible moment of my life. All the girls on my team have been continuing to text, “When are we getting together in 2017? We got together so much in 2016, we had so much fun, now we should do this every year!” So that’s kind of our goal, to get together a little bit more. We’re really good friends, which is unique when it comes to a team that really only competed once together for one Olympics.
Inside: Thinking back to 1992, when you missed making that Olympic team; how did you find a way to persevere and continue on the next four years until ’96?
Amanda: I think [that was] definitely the hardest moment of my career, for a lot of reasons. Definitely that was a crusher to me as an athlete, to work that hard, and to be so close, and have that feel like it was almost taken away. Now, 20 years later, I look back and I think, boy, I’m so thankful I didn’t go to ’92. I’m so thankful for what I learned through those four years of persevering and not giving up, because my moment in ’96 was incredible, I would never want to trade that.
Obviously making the Olympics was definitely my dream and my goal, but I learned through those four years that [the Olympics was] not the only reason I did gymnastics, and I think so often we get caught up in the end result of why we’re doing what we’re doing. And we forget that [we’re] doing gymnastics because [we] love it. I loved the feeling it gave me, I loved the challenge, I loved knowing I was strong enough to overcome [anything], whether it was a physical obstacle or a mental obstacle, and I know that played a huge role in the athlete I was in ’96. But even more so now, I think that’s definitely why I can handle a busy, crazy, stressful life that gets thrown at me pretty much every day. I’m thankful that in the midst of that struggle—[although] I didn’t love it then—I know it really shaped me into who I am now.
Inside: Did you ever consider making a comeback after Atlanta?
Amanda: Oh yeah. I think that’s one of the hardest things for an athlete, to move on. So many of my teammates did make comebacks; I think everybody tried to journey back to 2000 except Kerri Strug and me. I remember the first time I went to a Nationals and sat in the stands, I was like “This is wrong! This is wrong! I’m an athlete, I need to be out there!” I had a hard time transitioning into not being an athlete, and it’s probably the biggest thing I miss now. In fact, as a coach, sometimes I talk to my gymnasts and tell them, “I know you think it’s so hard, and I know you think it’s so challenging, and you [wonder], is it worth pushing through?” And I’m like, “When you’re my age, you’re going to want to go back and do it. You never get to be in those shoes again.” To this day, I would definitely love to go back and relive being the athlete, because it was just such an incredible part of my life.
Inside: Have you ever considered writing a book about your gymnastics career?
Amanda: [laughs] I have. I actually have a lot of people tell me I should do that. It’s not that I won’t someday; it’s just that right now I have so many things in my life that are keeping me busy. I just don’t think I could dedicate the kind of time it would take to do it. I tell my husband all the time, I just feel so blessed, to have had such an incredible moment in my life that still gives me the opportunity to share and motivate other people around me. I’m turning 40 this year, which is crazy, [and I am] still be able to talk 20+ years later about my journey to the Olympics, the obstacles I overcame, and still get people who are interested in that story, or thank me for encouraging them. It makes me think: the Olympics were really cool and that gold medal was amazing, but it’s even cooler to me that 20 years later, I get to have that opportunity to continue to motivate. So who knows? Maybe someday I will [write a book], in my spare time.
Inside: What do you think of the current Code of Points as opposed to the Perfect 10.0 system that you competed under?
Amanda: Mixed feelings, for sure, for a lot of reasons. Number one, I think to the fan, the Perfect 10.0 was just what gymnastics was known for. And of course in a lot of our sport, that Perfect 10.0 is still there, in our J.O. program, our Xcel program, and the college program, that 10.0 is still there. So for a lot of people that are still really involved, we still get to have those moments. But I do also respect and understand why the Code has changed, and it’s definitely been something that’s benefitted the Americans, because we have the ability to add the difficulty and still have the great execution. I tease people that if I were in this system, I would really struggle with the difficulty part of the score, because I was not necessarily the trickster, but I had the good form and the good basics and the compulsories, which was big in the ’90s. I definitely respect it in an athlete like Simone Biles, when she pretty much maxes out both sides of that score. That’s what makes her unbeatable, and definitely fun to watch, too.
Inside: Do you think the U.S. women’s program will change now that Martha Karolyi has retired?
Amanda: You know, I think that they have done an amazing job creating a system. I was part of the TOPs and developmental programs as a coach, and I’m still impressed at the educational opportunities and the teamwork among U.S. coaches. I think they’ve done a really good job trying to educate everybody to have the opportunity to be at that level. As a coach, I really enjoyed going to developmental camps, because I enjoy learning and I enjoy having the opportunity to just get a little bit better. I think that the system is definitely in place. I think most of us know Martha Karolyi is not really replaceable—I mean, she’s Martha. She’s got the experience of so many years and so many athletes, and her leadership is definitely going to missed. But I also think the program’s going to be in great hands with Valeri [Liukin], and it’s going to be another fun new journey for USA Gymnastics.
Inside: I have a fun question for you—what was your favorite leotard?
Amanda: I would have to say our Olympic leotard that we wore in team finals. But the funny story behind that is that the first time we put it on, all of us moaned and groaned because it was a V-neck, and in the ’90s, you thought V-necks were from the ’80s. We were like, “What is this leotard?” We were so used to high necks and keyholes, so they actually had to alter the V-neck; they had to pull it up a little bit higher because we were so uncomfortable with it. And it definitely became iconic in those Olympics. They’re still remaking it, and GK continues to show different varieties of that leotard, so I think it’s kind of funny when you look at it—it’s just so American, and yet when we put it on at first, we were just like “What is this?” [laughs]
Photo courtesy of Amanda Borden
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