15 Nov No longer under the radar, Kaliya Lincoln looks to 2024
No longer under the radar, Kaliya Lincoln looks to 2024
By Ashlee Buhler
Kaliya Lincoln remembers exactly where she was when she first fell in love with the sport of gymnastics.
She was on a family vacation, unwinding after an eventful day at Disneyland, when her parents turned on the TV. It just so happened that gymnastics was on and Gabby Douglas was performing. Lincoln was simply in awe.
“I told my mom, ‘I want to do that,’ Lincoln said.
The rest is history. Her parents enrolled her in gymnastics at the age of five and there has been no looking back for Lincoln ever since.
Now one of the top gymnasts in the United States and a contender for the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympics, Lincoln’s status as a primetime player for Team USA was solidified by her recent performance at the 2023 Pan American where she captured two gold medals (team and floor).
Her new-found success comes after a two-year hiatus from international competition. A stress fracture in her shin at the end of 2021 took her out of competition at the start of 2022, followed by a diagnosis of osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) in her knees that would require surgery, effectively ending her 2022 season. It was tough, but Lincoln wasn’t about to give up on her dream.
“That was definitely hard for me physically and mentally,” Lincoln said. “I was still watching all the competitions and watching everyone compete, so that was hard because I wanted to be out there competing with them so badly. I was thinking, ‘What if I’m not going to be as good anymore? What if my power is not going to be the same?’”
The uncertainty and doubt quickly washed away when Lincoln returned to the competitive stage in 2023. Starting with Winter Cup where she took home gold on floor, all the way to the Xfinity U.S. Championships where she finished second to Simone Biles on the event, Lincoln proved to be back and better than ever. Suddenly she was turning heads and creating her own headlines as a breakout star and one to watch heading into World Trials.
In September at those Trials, Lincoln was selected for the Pan American Games team, an assignment she was admittedly nervous for given she had only been on two international assignments in her entire career – the last being the Pan American Championships in 2021 – but those nerves faded away as the excitement of the whole experience started to set in.
For any aspiring Olympian, the Pan American Games is somewhat of a preview for what the future could hold – a little glimpse into an Olympic Games-style competition. With the start of competition so close, Lincoln and her teammates couldn’t walk in the opening ceremony – aside from Jordan Chiles who was the flag bearer for Team USA – but the atmosphere and everything she could experience was something she’ll never forget.
“Pan Ams is definitely like a mini-Olympics,” Lincoln said. “We stayed in the village with all the girls and all the other teams which was really fun because we got to meet a lot of people and make new friends … We’d go into the USA athlete recovery lounge and play cards for hours!
“This experience was very different from the usual international competitions I’ve been to. Obviously there were a lot more people, the crowd was amazing, and everyone was supporting each other. That environment definitely helped me feel less nervous.”
Walking away with two gold medals has been a confidence booster for Lincoln as she heads into the Olympic year — no longer under the radar but right on track. She feels really good with where she is at – more so mentally than anything else. A trait she’ll carry into the pressure-packed spotlight in 2024.
“Comparing the beginning of the season to now, I’ve definitely achieved more and feel much more confident in myself,” Lincoln said. “I feel like once I reached that point where I knew that I could do it and I’m not in my head as much, that’s where I can say I’ve definitely reached my best this season.”
With the Olympic year looming, Lincoln is focused on taking the journey one step at a time. She’s working on upgrading her routines – particularly on floor where she hopes to add a laid out double double – with the ultimate goal of competing at the Olympic Trials. Wherever she goes from there, she’ll know she gave it her all.
“It’s a big year for me and everyone else as well, so I’m just focused on that right now and getting prepared and ready,” Lincoln said. “I know it takes a lot to get ready for something like that, but I’m going to focus on one thing at a time.”
Next fall after her Elite season has wrapped, Lincoln will begin her next big journey as an LSU Tiger. She committed to the school following her official visit last fall. It was her first visit, and ended up being her only.
“As soon as I was able to talk with the coaches, they were super nice and really supportive with all my goals, so as soon as I went on campus and got to meet all the girls and see the environment and campus I knew that was the place I wanted to be,” Lincoln said. “I was talking to my parents about how to make a decision like this and they said, ‘As soon as you get to the campus, you’ll know if that’s where you want to be.”
Something about Baton Rouge just felt like home and very soon it will be. On November 8, 2023, Lincoln signed her National Letter of Intent, officially making her a Tiger. And while helping the team bring home championship trophies is undoubtedly the biggest goal, there are a few other things she wouldn’t mind accomplishing in her time as a Tiger as well.
“I am in love with mac and cheese,” Lincoln said. “I can eat it three times a day, seven times a week. I am in love with it! … If I had an NIL deal for mac and cheese – that’s a life goal right there!”
Full Circle Moment
Longtime fans of Lincoln might remember her as the young, rising gymnast from the TV show Undercover Boss: Celebrity Edition. Just 11-years-old at the time, Lincoln had no idea what she and her family had gotten themselves into.
“We actually did not know it was Undercover Boss when we were filming it. I had no clue,” Lincoln said. “We were told it was a documentary and that’s truly what we believed. My dad got a Facebook message saying, “We see your daughter does gymnastics, we want to do a documentary on her.” They flew us out to Atlanta and we were told they were shooting a woman who wanted to open her own gym that wanted to come talk to me and learn a bit more about gymnastics. That’s honestly what I truly believed.”
Lo and behold, the wannabe gym owner was actually 2012 Olympic All-Around Champion Gabby Douglas in disguise – the very person who inspired Lincoln to become a gymnast herself.
“As soon as they revealed it was Gabby Douglas, I was in complete shock,” Lincoln said. “I started crying because I finally got to meet my idol and I had been looking up to this person for literally my whole career. I could not believe it!”
At the end of the show, Douglas offered to mentor Lincoln on her Olympic journey – a promise she has kept to this day. Lincoln said she still gets a good luck text from Douglas before every competition and even sees her in the gym training from time to time.
During her comeback quest, Douglas has been training at WOGA in Plano, Texas. As fate would have it, Lincoln just so happens to also train at WOGA – but at the Frisco location. Occasionally when she goes to train in Plano, she gets to witness her idol training up close and personal.
Next year, if all goes according to plan, Lincoln and Douglas will be on the competition floor together. Lincoln will be striving for her first Olympics while Douglas goes for her third.
“Once I found out she was coming back I was like, this is unbelievable because imagine I get to be on the same competition floor with Gabby Douglas?!” Lincoln said, completely in awe at the idea of sharing the competition floor with her idol. “Even though we don’t train together, being out on the floor on the same team, that’s so exciting for me. I cannot wait!”
Never in a million years did she imagine her Olympic journey would collide with Douglas’ but she’s more ready than ever to live out her dreams with her idol right by her side.