by Anna Rose Johnson
We recently caught up with gymnastics legend Carly Patterson, an incredible all-around competitor whose performances dazzled the world at the 2004 Olympic Games. She retired after Athens due to a back injury and became a spokesperson for our sport. In this interview, Carly discusses her current life and the gymnastics memories she cherishes most.
Inside Gymnastics: What have you been up to lately?
Carly Patterson: Lately just enjoying the holidays, but trying to get back into the swing of things. It was a really busy year; it was a ton of travel, a ton of work, it was awesome. The Olympic year is always extra busy for me, [and] involves a lot of gymnastics. It was a great year and now I’m enjoying settling back into normal life again.
Inside: You do so much to promote the sport of gymnastics around the country; could you tell us about some of the most exciting gymnastics-related opportunities you’ve had in the last couple years?
Carly: I love getting to work with USA Gymnastics all throughout the year promoting the sport at our major competitions. [It’s] always awesome to be part of that. I hope I can do that for as long as possible, it keeps me connected and I feel like I’m still involved in the sport. [I enjoy getting] to meet the young gymnasts…a lot of them were not born when I won, but they still look up to you and know what you did so that is cool.
Inside: Could you reflect back on Athens 2004 and your all-around victory? What are some of the things that stand out most after 13 years?
Carly: I still remember most things like it was yesterday and all the little details. I think being in Athens was an amazing Olympics to be a part of, obviously the history and being in the birthplace of the Olympics was special. I say this a lot—but as I get older, I appreciate more and more and realize more and more what I did. The win—it still seems surreal; it’s not something I think about on a daily basis, that I won the Olympics. I always have to kind of remember, “Oh yeah, I did that,” when I have to talk about it. I feel like a normal person…gymnastics is not my everyday life anymore. Obviously winning was the greatest thing that could have happened, and it’s all about hard work and effort for so many years paying off. It was one of those Olympics [that I think] recharged the sport again, and got it back out there, got people back on the gymnastics bandwagon. So it’s cool to be a part of that, and I can’t believe it’s been over 12 years. It’s crazy how fast the time flies by now.
Inside: Now, I know that you ended your competitive career because of a back injury, but I also remember reading that you considered making comeback in early 2010. Could you tell us about that?
Carly: (laughs) That was me being silly entertaining the idea for a day, but not really thinking about it seriously. But I still remember asking my coach like, “Hey, do you think I could maybe do it?” And he was like, “Probably, it’s a lot of work, but it’s what you always did, yeah.” And then I was like, “Eh, maybe not.” Retiring ultimately because of my back was…one of those things where it was like, “Do I want to try and keep going? Do I want to retire? What do I want to do?” I think ultimately it was the right choice. My body just wouldn’t have let me continue to do it and a healthy life after gymnastics was really important to me too. I’ve always said that I loved going out on top, finishing my career on a high like that, and knowing that’s what I’ll be remembered by.
Inside: What was it like to train at WOGA in the early days of the gym?
Carly: It was awesome. It was just such a great environment [with] so much motivation and inspiration. I look back now and I think [about what] I got every single day, from being there and training there, just loving my coaches and having such an amazing sort of parent-kid relationship with them. [Also] looking up to them and knowing all the hard work and accomplishments that my coaches had as well. The team that I got to work with every single day was so amazing and they were all great gymnasts. I remember back then, there wasn’t any other gym like that. They always called us the WOGA army when we went to competitions because we always had the most girls and we were all really good. I just think being in that environment, being surrounded by that, really pushed me to be the best gymnast I could be and those are some of the greatest memories I have. Some of those girls I trained with every single day are still some of my best friends in the world, and we get together a lot. Sometimes we’ll talk about old times and have some good laughs. The Olympics was such a special memory, but I cherish everyday in the gym with those girls and the thousands of memories we made.
Inside: Do you have any stories from when Nastia Liukin, Rebecca Bross, and Madison Kocian were juniors at WOGA?
Carly: Nastia and I trained alongside each other the whole time, we were close in age. So obviously I always remember being in the gym with Nastia every day, watching her develop as a gymnast and get stronger and get better and more confident. And then Madison and Rebecca, they were more like the babies for a little while. I remember my coach Natasha started coaching Madison from the very beginning. And she was always saying, “Madison really reminds me a lot of you, just the way you guys do things.” I always thought that was funny, and it’s crazy to see how far Madison [has come], and she had to overcome so much with injuries…to actually see her push through the hard times and achieve her dreams was awesome to watch. There’s always been a time when WOGA’s been producing some great gymnast.
Inside: What was your favorite leotard you ever wore?
Carly: I loved the leotard that we wore for the team competition at the Olympics. It was all white and had the American flag. And then I always loved wearing the flame leotard that we wore in 2003 and 2004. I always loved that leotard and it became a really big hit for all young gymnasts. And I just remember that being such a popular leotard for everybody afterward. It was one of my favorites.
Inside: Have you ever thought about writing your autobiography?
Carly: I have! Shortly after I won [the Olympics], I wrote a little kid’s book, but I have definitely thought about writing an adult book with my story…I’m glad I didn’t try to write some grown-up book when I was young and had just won, because I didn’t have all the life experiences up until this day. There are things outside of gymnastics that I would include and lessons I’ve learned so that’s definitely something I’d love to do.
Inside: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Carly: Life is really good and I’m incredibly blessed to have an amazing husband, family and friends and I’m just looking forward to what 2017 has in store.
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