Only in the time-bending paradigm of competitive gymnastics could a 26-year-old rightfully be considered old, but Olympian Jonathan Horton is, well, old.
Of the 10 U.S. gymnasts competing in London, Horton is the only one with prior Olympic experience and the only one born in the 1980s. He's seven years older than his youngest male teammate and more than a decade older than Kyla Ross, the 15-year-old baby of the women's team.
That he's still hanging around the sport's highest level is a testament to Horton's skill and resolve, but he'd rather not think of it that way.
The Hilton HHonors spokesman still feels young—as well he should at 26—and tells B/R that he thinks he has one more Summer Games in him. For that and other revelations about the two-time Olympic medalist, check out the interview below.
1.) Being the old man on the team now, did you ever have a moment with the current group of guys where you dropped a cultural reference and no one got it?
I can’t remember anything specific that’s happened. It is an interesting relationship. I think I’m six years older than everybody else. Luckily I have some other [alternates] on the team—like Chris Brooks, he’s 25—who aren’t too much younger than me to kind of balance it out.
But in terms of the other guys who are competing members of the Olympic team, it is weird to say I’m six years older than Danell Leyva and…seven years older than John Orozco.
There’s definitely a big age gap there, but you wouldn’t really know it. Maybe I’m just as goofy as those guys are.
2.) But it’s not just that you’re older, you’re a leader now. How would you describe your leadership style?
My style really comes down to service. I feel like it’s my job to serve this team in whatever way they need. If these guys need a vocal leader—someone to get them pumped up and hyped up—I can be that guy.
None of them need this, but if those guys were nervous and need someone to hold their hand through the whole process, I could do that.
I try to not force any leadership upon these guys unless it’s needed. The great thing is we have a very vocal team. For instance, Sam Mikulak came up to me and asked me for advice: “How you handle the nerves for Olympic Trials? How is it different than the Olympic Games?”
I embrace that kind of thing. If someone needs my help, I’m there to serve them. So far it’s worked out and those guys have used me as a resource. And I love that. I want to be there for them in whatever way, shape or form that I can be there for them.
3.) Gymnasts have a reputation for being hyperactive and I know you were certainly that way as a child. It’s really hard for me to imagine gymnasts having down time. What do you do to relax?
It’s kind of funny because I always tell people what I do to relax and to some people it’s not really relaxing. For instance, last night, my wife and I were like, “Hey, let’s go ride motorcycles.”
I tell people that’s what I do to relax and they’re like, “Man, that’s not relaxing. That’s really scary.”
Regardless of what I’m doing, I’m still that off-the-wall kid.
4.) Do you ever think about that in relation to your life after gymnastics? Do you think the transition to being a retired athlete will be difficult for you?
I think it might be difficult. Hopefully I still have four years before I need to think about that. I’d like to push for the 2016 team, as well.
I’ve always thought of a million different things I could do after gymnastics to keep my need for adrenaline occupied. I want to go skydiving and I want to try a bunch of different extreme sports. I would love to go snowboarding and somehow find a half pipe and try some tricks—something stupid like that.
There’s a million things I’ve thought of doing just to feed that need.
5.) You’re here today representing the Hilton HHonors "Support the Dream" initiative whereby fans can send messages of encouragement to Olympians. Tell me the single best piece of motivation you ever received in your gymnastics career.
The best thing I’ve ever received from anyone—and it sounds kind of corny—but it comes from my wife. Every time I go to a major competition, she hides little notes of encouragement all over my stuff and I literally have no idea where it is. And I still to this day do not know how she hides it without me seeing when I’m packing all my clothes.
But it means so much to me. I open up my toiletry bag and there’s a note in there that’s extremely encouraging and it tells me, “You’re great. You can do this.”
That’s why the fan board is so important. Just to see that people care… it means a lot. Just one little note of encouragement can completely change your mindset.
What’s an example of a note your wife left in your bag?
They’re usually pretty quick. She knows that one of my favorite Bible verses is Philippians 4:13. It’ll just say something simple like that verse and underneath it it’ll say “You’re strong. You can do this.”
Or it’ll say, “I love you. Your family loves you. Your fans love you. Go out and have a good time.”