After narrowly missing out on a podium finish in his opening four individual events at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Buenos Aires 2018, US gymnast Brandon Briones finally struck gold in the vault, having previously won bronze in the mixed team competition. Here, he looks back at his time at the YOG and reveals his future goals.
It’s been over two years since you competed in the YOG. How do you reflect on your time at Buenos Aires 2018?
Yeah, it feels just like yesterday. I think about the Youth Olympics a lot because I met some great international friends while I was there, and so whenever we're talking on social media, or sending pictures or videos to each other, or updating each other on our progress, it just reminds me of the time I had there. So yeah, I think about it a lot.
What are some of your favourite memories from the YOG?
The Opening Ceremony was a definite highlight. I thought that was really, really special to be a part of, and I think Buenos Aires did an amazing job. And then also winning my gold medal and standing on the podium – that was another awesome highlight. It was amazing; one of the best moments of my life, to stand on top and see my flag raised at such a high-level competition, with some of the best athletes in the world at that level. It was really special and something I'll look back on for my whole life.
Did it inspire you to reach the Olympic Games one day?
Yeah, for sure. As a kid growing up in gymnastics, I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympics one day, and I'm thankful I had an opportunity to go to the Youth Olympics. It was very special to be a part of that Olympic environment and makes me want to continue to pursue it, and it makes me want to hopefully make another Olympic Games one day.
How has your career progressed since the YOG?
Shortly after the Games, I committed to Stanford University, and last year was my freshman year, so I've been competing on that team this year. Depending on the situation with COVID-19, hopefully we'll be able to have another season again, as last year our season got cut short. I've been training with my team here at Stanford and really improving my gymnastics and focusing on future Olympic trials, future world championships and then hopefully the Olympic Games. The goal for me now is to work my way into the senior ranks and start getting my name out there for the senior national team. The Olympic trials are a big goal of mine, and then hopefully in the next coming years, I can compete at the world championships and then make a run for Paris 2024.
You also won bronze in the mixed team event, competing alongside athletes from other National Olympic Committees. What was that experience like for you?
I thought that was really cool and I got to meet some amazing athletes and feel like I was part of a team. We obviously had the whole of Team USA in the Village, but I was the only male gymnast on the team, and out there on the floor it's just you. So I think it was really good for athlete bonding, friendship and building the Olympic spirit through that event, getting to know other people and competing with them. So that was great.
How did the YOG compare to other events that you had competed in?
It's totally different than any other competition I've been in. Just the calibre of gymnastics that was being done; it was amazing to compete against such high-level athletes. Also, just the energy surrounding the event; the crowd was always packed, always so loud and supportive. There were lines going out the door; I've never been in front of so many people like that before and it was amazing. It made the whole experience totally different to any other competition. There's never been that type of Olympic spirit or energy before.
Do you think your experiences in Buenos Aires will help prepare you for competing at the Olympic Games?
I think so, yeah. Competing for the United States under the Olympic rings and being part of the Olympic Village and that entire Olympic experience, I think that's definitely going to help. And also knowing what to expect for training leading up to the Olympic Games. It was very tough leading up to the Youth Olympics, and there are a lot of obstacles along the way, but getting that experience now is great for the future.
We’ve seen lots of former YOG athletes step up to the senior stage and enjoy success at the Olympic Games. Does that inspire you?
It does, yeah. When I was preparing for Buenos Aires, I looked back at the results from Nanjing 2014 and noticed that some of the top seniors in the world today had competed there. And one of them, Nikita Nagornyy, is now a world champion. That gives me a lot of hope and a lot of encouragement that one day I could be there too.
What would you say to any young athletes who might be hoping to compete in the YOG one day?
I would encourage them to make it a big goal of theirs. I know that as soon as I found out I was in the running to qualify, it was my biggest goal for that year. You can really only experience it once because once you're outside the juniors then it's no longer an option. It's definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience and something that you'll cherish forever, so just enjoy the moment and enjoy every second that you spend there.