Update! 11-8-21 

Simone Biles, the most decorated female gymnast of all time, and the best gymnasts in the world will debut the Athleta Presents Gold Over America Tour on the Stellar streaming platform on December 4 at 1 p.m. Pacific/4:00 p.m. Eastern. Tickets for the streaming event will be available through www.goldoveramericatour.com.  

Tickets for streaming begin at $20. Premium VIP ticket buyers will have access to VIP chat during the performance with special guests Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez, Jordan Chiles and Director Mark “Swany” Swanhart. They will also receive a coupon for 10% off official tour merchandise.

By Christy Sandmaier

As part of Inside Gymnastics promotional partnership with the Athleta Presents Gold Over America Tour, I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes at the Duluth, GA performance on October 26. From the warmups to the finale, I found myself enjoying every minute of the experience and left feeling inspired for the superwomen who performed and for the next generation of female gymnasts. 

Headlined of course by the GOAT herself, Simone Biles, the tour features an all-female cast and brands itself as a “gymnastics-meets-pop-concert tour showcasing the gymnasts performing some of their most famous routines mixed with career highlights, personal videos and social media interactions, and brings together the determination, athleticism, artistry and emotion of these incredible women athletes.”

The all-star cast includes Biles’ Tokyo teammates Jade Carey, Jordan Chiles, Grace McCallum and MyKayla Skinner, 2016 gold and silver medalist in Rio and Dancing With The Stars champion Laurie Hernandez, All-American, NCAA National Champion and viral video sensation Katelyn Ohashi, 2017 World All-Around Champion and two-time American Cup Champion Morgan Hurd, 2021 Winter Cup All-Around silver medalist Shilese Jones, former USA Gymnastics Women’s Athlete of the Year, 2005 World All-Around Champion and 2008 Olympic silver medalist Chellsie Memmel, 2019 European All-Around Champion, two-time European Champion on floor and 2020 French Olympian and Melanie de Jesus dos Santos, three-time Canadian Olympian Ellie Black, and 2012-2016 U.S. National Team member, 2018 NCAA Gymnastics Team Champion as a member of the UCLA Bruins and viral sensation Nia Dennis. A crew of incredible gymnastic dancers complete the team.

The creative team includes Director Mark “Swany” Swanhart and Associate Director Louanne Madorma, along with world-renowned gymnastics coach Valorie “Miss Val” Kondos Field, who serves as Supervising Choreographer for the tour. Swanhart, who has over 25 years in the entertainment industry, says he’s “been able to create within all the loves of my life… sports, storytelling, live stage, dance and film.” His passion and creative vision for this project, together with Biles, truly shows. 

Chellsie Memmel, Ellie Black, Nia Dennis, MyKayla Skinner, Jordan Chiles, and Katelyn Ohashi graciously gave me a segment of their warm up and pre-show preparation time to chat, and I was struck by the thoughtfulness, joy and perspective each offered while reflecting on their time on this tour. Each was so grateful for the opportunity to be part of this piece of history, as well as to Biles for her dream, determination and diligence to make this tour come to life. “She’s a business woman at heart,” Chiles said.

The show emerges from the athlete’s personal values of empowerment, friendship, positive body image, mental health awareness, and self-confidence. There was something in all of their eyes that spoke volumes about what I was about to see and I found that all of the women I spoke with really, truly lived and breathed this vision together with Biles and that it truly resonated throughout each number during the show. 

Seated right beside the floor (masked of course, as was required) with the 32-foot balance beam and main stage to my right, I did a visual tour of the setting. My immediate thought was the attention to detail being paid to safety. It was clear by the extra mats, lengthy rod tumbling strip, two sets of bars spaced out, Tumbl Trak laser beam (a favorite of Memmel’s, she told us), and Spieth representatives and spotters surrounding the equipment throughout warmups and the show, that the gymnasts’ well-being was front and center. 

Many of the women were in conversation with tour personnel throughout preparation. They were responsive, ensuring that the athletes were comfortable and everything was set to their specifications. Kondos Field was onsite and on this day, she was on the floor early working with Ohashi, Hurd and Hernandez (who along with performing, serves as the emcee and does an amazing job) on their beam segment performed to Alicia Keys’ “No One.” It offered a sneak peek of what would ultimately become one of my favorite moments in the show. Kondos Field kept an eye on everyone throughout the two-hour warmup, directing, nurturing, and cheering on the women – McCallum through her conditioning circuit, Chiles as she threw side somis on beam, Hurd as she warmed up her tumbling. Kondos Field also came out to warm up the crowd in the section near the bars and found herself signing more than a few autographs!

As the lights, fog, LED screens and sound were tested, the “Chalk Talk” started on the other side of the arena and Gold Squad members started to learn their dance for the finale, Memmel and Black came over to chat first. For Memmel, who told us before the tour she hadn’t thought of it being in the cards for her, the entire experience has been amazing. 

“I feel like this is bigger than a show,” Memmel said. “I’m so grateful I get to be a part of it and experience it with the rest of the girls, and the dancers who are phenomenal.” She said the biggest surprise for her – and one of her favorite moments in the show – is her solo on beam. “I have a moment before I go where I’m literally taking it all in. It doesn’t get redundant. I’m floored seeing all of the phone lights go up and to see the crowd participate in it, I’m in awe. It’s very humbling to me because I didn’t expect that. It’s incredible.” 

She described performing in Milwaukee as really special to her and had some fun fangirling just a bit performing in the Fiserv Forum, home to the Milwaukee Bucks. Memmel also loves the action-packed opening act (during the show, I turned my attention to bars just in time to see her stand up a killer Y-scale on the top bar. It’s just #chellsiethings).

After the tour concludes, she’s very  ready to spend some quality family time. “Being away from my kids and my husband has obviously been the hardest part,” she said. And as for any future gymnastics plans, she’s waiting to see how her body feels before making any decisions. “My husband asked, my mom asked, I had a whole conversation with Simone and then with Laurie… I don’t want to be done. If gymnastics is still something that brings me joy and it’s fun, I want to keep doing it.”

Black is also taking time to evaluate what’s next for her while soaking up every experience in every city. “This has been an incredible experience. Something that doesn’t come around very often. It’s been phenomenal just to be on tour and get to tour across America with these women.” 

She spoke at length about the show’s message of togetherness, friendship and mental health, how it plays out night after night, and how it’s a great reminder of the journey each athlete has taken to get to this point. “The message of the show – it’s awesome to be a part of that and be able to make a difference for many athletes and young people. It’s really heartwarming to see,” Black said. When I asked her about her favorite part she mentioned “the spoken word” (courtesy of Ohashi) bringing tears to her eyes, but really the whole show is incredible, she says, “It’s hard to pick one moment.” 

After adjusting to the pace of life on the road, Black said everything feels very normal now and her body is holding up well. “Although it is repetitive and taxing on the body – performing takes a different energy – I’m feeling good,” she said. She loved Boise, Idaho, California, Houston and said every place they stop she tries to get out and see something and take in the opportunity of being there. When the tour is all over, she’s going to take some time to rest and then plans to get back to training.

As for Black’s Tokyo experience, where she finished fourth on beam in the finals and gave us one of the more emotional moments of the Games, it’s hard to believe it’s actually all over, she said, and finding balance and time to process it after such a long period of time is important. “There were a lot of ups and downs and a lot of things we were working on overcoming, but I was really happy to finish the competition with that performance because it was a long preparation getting there and was really difficult. And after the Olympics, it can be really tough. You work so long and suddenly it’s all over. I was only home for a few weeks before coming on tour. It has been a whirlwind and taking time to process everything is important.” 

Black says being able to enjoy the experience with each other has been at the forefront on this tour for everyone. “We’re here enjoying this moment and this opportunity for us. We’ve all been through so much this past year, that I think this is something special we can connect over.”

The connection with each other is key on tour and another part of what made this tour so special right from the start. UCLA graduate Nia Dennis, whose floor routine celebrating “black excellence” went viral with over 9 million views in January of 2021 told us in fact, what she was most looking forward to about the tour was reconnecting with all of the women she’s known since childhood. “The elite world is very small, so I was just so excited to reconnect with them. I was just honestly honored to be asked to participate and help inspire these girls, and help be a part of Simone’s message.” 

It was the first time I had spoken in person to Dennis, who wants to continue in the entertainment field, and her love for performing and excitement for the show just radiated. Most of all, she said, “I just love that we’re all here for each other.”

For each woman, nothing has been easy getting to this point in their career, and relying on each other for inspiration and empowerment has been everything (and clearly sets it apart from previous tours). As has the ability to translate that feeling to the audience each night. “I’ve been getting so many comments about how inspiring it’s been,” said 2020 Olympic silver medalist MyKayla Skinner. “Being a part of Simone’s tour is very unique because it’s telling a story. It’s about mental health, and empowerment… It’s just everything that we’ve been through. It’s telling people you can fall and get back up and it’s going to be okay. I just love the story that it tells and I think people need to hear it.”

Messages, words of encouragement, and inspirational thoughts are woven across the screen throughout the show. Musical artists included BTS, Miley Cyrus and Tori Kelly among many, and for me, the photos of the Olympic team as very young children definitely pulled at the heartstrings. There was never a break in the energy as every story flowed from one to the next. Nothing seemed overdone or out of place, it was quick-paced, and very emotional at times. The tone was right throughout, with the dancers adding an extra element of that pop culture concert vibe and an extra dose of energy. 

During “Olympic Moments” each member of the Tokyo team is given a minute or so to talk with Hernandez about their journey, followed by their solo performance. “The story that it tells – I’ve actually gotten emotional twice,” Skinner said. “This is kind of my closing chapter and I think the last show is really going to hit hard. Being with the girls and getting to know the dancers has been a blast. It’s making memories for a lifetime.” 

The Olympic team’s crazy ride has continued on tour as they went from Tokyo to the talk show circuit, award shows, and fashion week, to starting their collegiate careers, to rehearsal with almost no down time in between. Jordan Chiles is still taking it all in and is very proud of the message the tour sends. 

“This tour definitely gives the example of what we truly go through,” said Chiles, who plans to head to UCLA in December and compete for the Bruins. “Even processing that I went to Tokyo, that I’m an Olympic silver medalist and now I’m on tour is definitely fun and amazing. Having mental health [as a theme] throughout the entire show, we want people to understand this is an inspirational tour and hope they share that message.” 

As for her own message of inspiration, Chiles encourages young athletes everywhere to speak up about things they truly don’t understand. “Coming through my journey, it took me a while to do that and get to where I am right now. For the younger generations, I want them to also understand it’s okay to not be okay and to get the support that they need,” she said.

Off the floor and on the road, Chiles has loved eating together, shopping, relaxing and going to spas on their off days and just doing different things with everyone depending on the day. “We’ve gone to Target so many times!” she laughed. “We’ve seen so much having this experience together. It’s been very cool. It’s been a reunion for all of us.” 

And as for her relationship with Biles, after such an incredible year of training, competing and traveling together, going their separate ways once the tour concludes, she says, is going to be really hard. “I’m excited to go off to college and she’s going to be doing amazing things. It’s definitely going to be a hard one, but I know she’ll always be there for me.”

Every show for these women has moments they’ll remember long after the tour wraps in Boston on November 7, and there’s no doubt having spoken with them, how much their experience will impact their lives and careers going forward. 

For Katelyn Ohashi, having the chance to perform again has been everything. “It’s such a blessing,” she said. “I missed performing so, so much. Being back out here after two years is crazy. In LA, I was talking to some of the Gold Squad girls and they flew 16 hours from Israel to see this show. To hear that, gives you a new perspective every day of why we do this. All of the outreach that has been happening because of this show and the messaging, is just really special.”

The emotions come in waves every single night for Ohashi, whose own journey in the  sport has been well documented these last three years, and when her Mom attended, the extra emotion was definitely there she said. Her perspective on her journey is in so many ways exactly the message the Gold Over America Tour delivers so well. 

“For one, no one’s success looks the same and no one’s path looks the same,” Ohashi said. “For so long, everyone only cared about the number one spot, whereas it’s starting to shift in gymnastics and becoming a bigger sport where it’s not just about the Olympics anymore. For girls to come in and feel like they can still have success without going to the Olympics, without winning a gold medal, without feeling the pressures that everyone places on them, I think, is amazing. We have so many people that enjoy the sport, but how many get to the top? It’s important for them to see us out here having fun with gymnastics. I hope everyone can take away something, because this show is about creating your own story.”

Her favorite moment in the show is “Smile” because of its high energy and interaction with the crowd. Ohashi said she is so grateful to Biles and to director Mark Swanhart for bringing this tour together. 

Biles herself was clearly the star of course, but her generosity throughout the show was apparent. Each athlete was showcased at her best, on her terms, and in her own moment, all coming together as a team reinforcing success as redefined. Watching the young gymnast seated two chairs away from me light up during each and every performance as she watched her heroes, was assurance that Biles’ mission to inspire the next generation was on this night, mission accomplished.

For Tickets: https://www.goldoveramericatour.com/goat/tickets.html

Photos by John Cheng

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