ESPN

Bodies We Want 2011

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ALICIA SACRAMONE

Photograph By Francesco Carrozzini for ESPN The Magazine

"Here's a surprise: I'm really not that flexible. I can do the splits and touch my toes, but for a gymnast, I can barely move. I see little kids doing saddle splits -- where you stretch to the sides and touch your stomach to the ground -- and it's embarrassing because I can't even come close. My coaches will literally sit on me to stretch me out. The reason I can do great jumps is that I'm strong, not flexible. But I've learned to appreciate my body more after coming back from retirement. Wearing spandex as a teenager in front of a billion people is tough. I'd look in the mirror before a competition and think, I hope I don't look fat. Being away from the sport helped me see that gymnastics made me jaded. You want to be so strong that you overwork certain areas. At the last Olympics, I had more muscle than I needed. Now I have no extra bulk to weigh me down. I'm in better shape."