For Paul Juda, the Title of “Olympian” is Everything

For Paul Juda, the Title of “Olympian” is Everything

By Megan Roth

The road to Paris has been nothing but easy for Paul Juda. In 2022, he hyperextended his knee at warm-ups for the U.S. Classic and in 2023, he had a “freak accident” on high bar that injured his ankle and resulted in him missing his senior season at the University of Michigan.

After working through his recovery, Juda not only made the 2023 World Championship team, but also helped Team USA win their team bronze medal, ending a 9-year team medal drought for the U.S. men. Individually, he made the vault and high bar finals.

10 months after his first Worlds, Juda walked into the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota looking to make his childhood dream a reality.

At Olympic Trials, Juda was one of just a few athletes to go 12 for 12 and his high placements on floor (2nd), pommel horse (3rd), vault (4th), and high bar (5th) solidified his position on the mathematical highest scoring using all four scores and the top three scores from U.S. Championships and Olympic Trials. 

After having the meet of his life, Juda sat in a room alongside the other 19 competitors, hoping to hear his name called. “I wish I could say I was calm, cool, and collected,” Juda said. “I might have been that on the outside, but my heart was just pounding.”

At the selection for 2023 Worlds, Juda’s name was called last, but here, he heard the selection committee read his name first and as soon as he heard the first syllable of his name, the tears started flowing. 

Those tears kept flowing as Juda was announced as the first member of the 2024 U.S. Men’s Olympic team to over 14,000 people in the Target Center and the millions of people watching the broadcast.

When asked what his initial feelings were about being named to the team, it was hard for Juda to pinpoint one feeling. “I think it’s just joy and gratitude and just a feeling of just love for so many people and for that kid that watched the Olympics long, long, long ago,” Juda said. “You change your mind of what the sport means a lot when you do it for this.”

Throughout the post-meet interviews, Juda kept the bouquet of flowers he was given during the team announcement clutched in his hands, wanting to give it to his mom after the interviews and seeing it as a symbol of his achievement. “Yeah, I’m definitely giving this right to my mom, straight up,” Juda said. “This is not going anywhere … It feels like catching the bar on a release, you don’t want to let go. It’s just been super awesome. This is just a huge symbol.”

Like many athletes who make it to an Olympic Games, Juda has been dreaming of the Olympics since he was a little kid. But during struggles in his NCAA season earlier in the year, he considered erasing “Olympian” from the whiteboard of goals he set on January 1st, 2024.

“I had fell short on a couple of other goals that I wrote on that whiteboard and I was starting to think if I should erase the one that said Olympian because maybe it won’t come true. But I’m going home and I’m gonna put a massive check on there. I’m glad that it went there, that I kept it there.” 

Along with the motivation of becoming an Olympian, Juda told the media that the crowd at huge meets like Olympic Trials keeps him going, even through tough moments in his career. 

“I just think every tough training, every time you go to the gym and you feel great, and then you have a terrible day, and then you’re like, ‘why am I even here?’ I feel like being in college for so long, it’s going be my sixth year and now I’m thinking like, wow, should I have just been done after four years and just been done and whatnot? So I think it’s just the pull that keeps bringing you back, though, because then you slam a pommel set in front of this crowd and you’re like, no, I like this. It’s the best thing in the world and there’s nothing that comes close.”

In 2021, Juda competed at the Olympic Trials and placed 8th in the All-Around, but he feels like he didn’t really take in the experience of Olympic Trials.

“I remember what I did in ’21, and it was the wrong approach. I was more focused on just making the team or not making the team. I didn’t get to take in the crowd. I didn’t have any involvement with them. I didn’t enjoy the moment. Everything felt rushed. I never got a chance to enjoy it.” 

Looking back at 2021, Juda didn’t feel like he had earned the crowd’s attention yet, but now as a World Medalist, fans know his name. 

“I think in ’21, it’s the truth and it’s tough to say, but in ’21, I don’t think I had earned the crowd’s involvement yet. I think maybe it takes accolades and luckily, I’m part of so many people that have had those. Now when I walk out, my name is recognizable, which is a huge, awesome feeling and I’m super grateful for it. I think just knowing that you got people’s support, you’ve got young children who are up to your kneecaps asking for pictures, and you’re like, I can’t say no. It’s my 50th photo, but I was you one day.”

While his achievements at 2023 Worlds were huge, knowing he’s soon to become an Olympian, Worlds now feel like a step on his path to Paris.

“I think the World Team was just the first step that I ever had that was just confirmation that I am who I am inside of the gym and that I finally got to say, okay, I’ve done something bigger than just National Team. And then I think, of course, making the medal is another feeling, right? You come home and you’ve got a medal. But this one, you get to say for the rest of your life [that you’re an Olympian.]”

Now along with Brody Malone, Asher Hong, Stephen Nedoroscik, and his Michigan teammate Frederick Richard, Juda is off to Paris. Obviously, he’s ready to fight for a team medal. “It’s been done, we broke the [medal] drought once,” Juda said. “We’ve got so many returners that are going to have the exact same mindset. It’s way cooler to come back with a medal, that’s for sure.”

But ultimately, no matter the outcome, he’ll always be an Olympian, and for the little kid with a dream, the athlete with self doubt, and the soon-to-be Olympian, that means everything.

“In that one second, once your name gets called, you know you’re an Olympian forever.”

Inside Gymnastics will be on the scene in Paris bringing you all the action! Make sure you’re following our social media pages (TwitterFacebookInstagram & Threads) for news and highlights throughout the Olympic Games.

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