Q&A: Olympic Day with Gymnasts Shannon Miller and Jaycie Phelps

1996 Olympic gymnasts Shannon Miller and Jaycie Phelps chat about Olympic Day handstand strategy, the P&G National Championships, and Rio 2016.
Hundreds gathered Tuesday, June 23, to do headstands on Monument Circle in as they attempt to set a world record for the most headstands performed at one time.

Amidst the soon-to-be down scaffolding, hundreds gathered around Soldiers and Sailors Monument on June 23 for Olympic Day. Gymnasts from around the state flocked in an attempt to break the world record for the most handstands at one time. We caught up with 1996 Olympic gymnasts Shannon Miller and (Indy’s own) Jaycie Phelps to chat about handstand strategy, the P&G National Championships, and Rio 2016.


How does it feel to be in Indianapolis to celebrate Olympic Day 2015 with other athletes and young gymnasts?

Shannon Miller: I love Olympic Day. It’s just one of the best days because we really get to celebrate the Olympic movement and everything the Olympics are about. And having it here in Indy, we get to celebrate the P&G Championships that are coming to town in August, which is really amazing. For people who don’t know about the event, it’s the National Championships, which decides who goes on to compete at the World and Olympic games. I have fond memories of competing in Indianapolis. My first World Championships was right here in Indy, so it feels good to be back. Especially seeing all these young gymnasts out here and knowing they are working toward something like that.


How does it feel to have this event hosted in your home state?

Jaycie Phelps: It’s awesome! Anytime you can get something this big that’s celebrating the Olympic movement and the National Championships in our backyard, it’s always a great event. There are lots of gymnasts in the area so I know everybody is really looking forward to today and August for the Championships.


You and your husband returned to Greenfield to open a gym in 2010. What is your favorite thing about being back in Indy?

JP: I think just being back in the Midwest. I just love Indiana. I love the people. Everybody is warm and welcoming and friendly. The main thing is being near my family. I’d been away from them for several years, so it’s nice to be back, especially starting a big adventure like my own business. It’s nice to have that support all the time.


Shannon Miller (left) and Jaycie Phelps (right) take a selfie on the steps of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.

What are your hopes for the next generation of gymnasts?

SM: My biggest hope—and this comes as a mom, because I have two young children—my hope is that these athletes will focus on going out and doing their very best. Just go out and give it 100 percent, and at the end of the day, that’s all you can do.

JP: Well, I’ve got a lot of them in my gym, and our goal as a program is college scholarships, number one. Number two: making the national team, having kids representing the USA. But I think most importantly, it’s just getting the kids into college. That’s a big priority for us, as well as teaching lots of life lessons and the value of hard work and setting goals.


Will you be attending the P&G National Championships here in August?

SM: Yes! It’s Aug. 13–16, so I’ll be back here working and cheering everyone on. I’m excited to be a part of it.


What advice would you give to the gymnasts who will be competing at the championships in August?

SM: For those athletes who have made it to a national championship, they’ve already been so successful. I think my advice would be to really appreciate the success they’ve had to get to this point. If they do well at the competition, that’s just the icing on the cake. Making the national team and moving on to some of these other competitions [is great], but don’t forget about all of the great things that they’ve done to get to this point.

JP: I would say just do your thing. We’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of impressive gymnasts. And my advice is to just take a deep breath and do what you do. Be yourself. That was kind of our slogan at our gym this year. It was “BElieve in YOUrself,” with the ‘BE YOU’ capitalized. So don’t try to be more than what you are or something that you’re not and completely perfect. Just go in and be you. All of those kids are prepared well and have great coaches, so just be you.


The Olympians check out their selfie with approving smiles.

Are you going to be doing a handstand today?

JP: I am! (Laughs)


What’s your strategy for forming the perfect handstand?

JP: I think a lot of movement through the fingers and the wrist to keep balance and in the core. The core stability—that’s the key to holding the handstand.


What are you most looking forward to for the 2016 Olympics in Rio?

JP: Just the whole experience. For those of us who have been a part of it, it brings back a lot of memories, a lot of emotions, and you think about all of the athletes who are training and how hard they’re working and what they’re going through right now in preparation. So you hope that everyone who’s in the running for it gets there. And it’s always fun to watch the stories and see it all play out.


What is some advice you wish you had known prior to competing in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta?

SM: I had a lot of great advice going into the Olympic Games, but the only thing maybe I wish I had understood a little bit better was to enjoy the moment. Really think about how special it is. I knew it was special at the time, but I think it’s taken me over a decade to really appreciate that moment in time when the world was watching.


Do you have any advice for the gymnasts competing in Rio 2016?

JP: Once you’re there, you’re there. As hard as it seems to try to be there and enjoy the moment, you should treat it as any other competition. That’s hard to do; you look around and see the Olympic rings on every piece of equipment that you’re on. But again, just be you. Do your normal thing. You got there, so you’re there for a reason, so that’s the pinnacle of it. You’ve made it there!