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America's Sweethearts 

A touring show brings dozens of elite-level gymnasts to Spokane this month, including Rio's "Final Five" women's team

click to enlarge The gold medal-winning U.S. women's gymnastics team heads to Spokane next week. CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Madison Kocian, Aly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez.
  • The gold medal-winning U.S. women's gymnastics team heads to Spokane next week. CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Madison Kocian, Aly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez.

From Rio to Spokane, next up for the U.S. women's gymnastic team is an energetic tour across the country to show off their gold medal winning skills.

Kicking off on Sept. 15 at the Spokane Arena, the Kellogg's Tour of Gymnastics Champions offers a sampling of the Olympians' high-flying skills in an exhibition-style format reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil's flashy, acrobatic shows.

Joining the gold-medal winning women's team — Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian, who charmed audiences worldwide last month during the Rio Games — are members of this year's men's team, and the rhythmic and acrobatic gymnastics teams. Past Olympic stars, including 2008 all-around champ Nastia Liukin and 2012 team gold medalist Jordyn Wieber, also are on the roster.

Because of its format, spectators shouldn't expect to see the formulaic, skills-packed competition routines for each of the sport's apparatus. Instead, for this show gymnasts perform lively, choreographed routines to upbeat music, using the beam, bars, vault, rings and floor, along with aerial hoops, silks and other implements. During some moments, multiple athletes might be on the same apparatus.

"It's so far from being a competition; it's just designed to be a crowd-pleaser," says Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics, which serves as the national governing body for the sport.

Scheduled every four years after each Olympic Games, the tour's previous stop in Spokane was back in 2008, and before that in 2004. Penny says that because of the athletes' whirlwind post-Games media tours, they meet to learn and practice their roles just weeks before the show, which will stop in 35 other cities after launching in Spokane.

"They're quick studies — they know what to expect and how to pull routines together," Penny says. "Once they get to rehearsal, they just see what they need to do and pick it up really quick."

After winning a combined total of 13 medals (eight gold) between them, most of the Final Five, as they nicknamed themselves, haven't announced their future plans in the sport. Uneven bars silver medalist Madison Kocian plans to head to UCLA, where she'll compete on the school's Pac-12 gymnastics team. While both Biles and Hernandez are considered "young" team members and could likely each compete in a second Olympics in Tokyo in 2020, neither have announced their future plans on that front, and understandably so. After meeting every expectation that their coaches, fans and they themselves had in Rio, it's time for these gravity-defying women to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor — starting with the kickoff of the champions tour in Spokane next week. ♦

Kellogg's Tour of Gymnastics Champions • Thu, Sept. 15 at 7:30 pm • $29-$299 • Spokane Arena • • 1-800-325-SEAT

Stars of the Tour of Gymnastics Champions

Simone Biles |2016 Olympic team, all-around, vault and floor gold medalist; beam bronze medalist

Aly Raisman | 2016 Olympic team gold medalist; all-around and floor silver medalist; 2012 Olympic team and floor gold medalist; beam bronze medalist

Gabby Douglas | 2016 Olympic team gold medalist, 2012 Olympic team and all-around gold medalist

Laurie Hernandez | 2016 Olympic team gold medalist; beam silver medalist

Madison Kocian | 2016 Olympic team gold medalist; uneven bars silver medalist

Jordyn Wieber | 2012 Olympic team gold medalist

Nastia Liukin | 2008 Olympic all-around gold medalist; team, uneven bars, beam silver medalist; floor bronze medalist

Alex Naddour | 2016 Olympic men's team member; pommel horse bronze medalist

Sam Mikulak | 2016 Olympic men's team member

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