When gymnastics worlds collide: Fred Richard has gold medal dreams while repping Michigan

By Karyssa D'Agostino | July 16, 2023
Fred Richard in his Michigan uniform at the 2023 Winter Cup and in his USA uniform at the 2022 Pan American Championships.
(© Amy Sanderson)

Artistic gymnastics can be divided into two worlds: elite and college, but now, more than ever, gymnasts are choosing to do both simultaneously. In this series, Gymnastics Now talks with athletes who are straddling the line between worlds to highlight the nuances of representing college and country.

For the first edition of this series, Gymnastics Now spoke with the young and incredibly talented Fred Richard.

The 19-year-old recently finished a stellar freshman season representing the University of Michigan men’s gymnastics team, winning both the 2023 NCAA and Big Ten all-around titles, among others. He’s also a member of the U.S. senior men’s national team.

“Frederick Flips” – as he’s know across social – is making a splash in both NCAA and elite, but he has one major goal in mind: bringing home an Olympic gold medal.

“The end goal is bringing that gold medal, to bring that gold medal home is where my eyes are set, which is a pretty big goal.” Richard said. “It’s big, but if I could bring [home] a gold medal, and represent Michigan, represent all the people who have put so much work into helping me get where I am today, that’s when I’m gonna feel complete, but until then, I’ll be satisfied but always pushing.”

Path to Paris

Richard has quickly become one of the top U.S. senior elites over the past year, but the quick rise to stardom hasn’t changed his plans to become an Olympian – or a Michigan legend.

“U.S. championships is in about [a month], and by then, I’m doing basically the routines that I plan to have for the Olympics,” Richard said. “This is when I have basically my full difficulty – may not be perfect, but it’ll be there – and that’s where I’m pushing for that competition… [During] the NCAA season, I really learned to perfect things and work on cleaning up, and I think it’s the perfect stage to compete week after week, just perfecting these Olympic routines during the NCAA season.”

(USA Gymnastics/YouTube)

While an Olympic gold medal is the end goal, Richard has a few milestones to hit before then. One of the largest stepping stones is making the U.S. worlds team – an opportunity Richard missed out on last season due to an International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) rule.

Since he represented the U.S. as a junior internationally in 2022, he was ineligible for the senior worlds team. This might be a situation that frustrates many athletes, but Richard seems to take everything in stride. Instead of fretting over what could’ve been, he took the past year to grow.

“I’m glad I had an extra year to be able to grow, and I think I have grown a lot, as shown [during] the NCAA season. I plan to show [that at] the next coming competitions, but I think it’s exciting,” Richard reflected. “I’m there now. When I look at these guys, in other countries, their skill level is right where I am, nothing is not much greater. So, I think by worlds I’d be in perfect shape to contend for the gold, which is big.”

The dream big kid

That is the consistent thing about Richard: there are no small goals. He isn’t singularly focused on making the worlds team or earning a spot on the Olympic team; he looks at all these other moments as steps toward the bigger picture while also recognizing his current potential.

“Experience is one thing. It’s great and all, but I want to win,” Richard said. “This year, I’m really able to contend for that gold medal, and all-around, and it obviously helps the team a lot to get on the podium.”

Fred Richard vaults during the 2023 DTB Pokal senior men's team challenge.
Fred Richard vaults during the 2023 DTB Pokal – his first international assignment as a senior. (© Filippo Tomasi)

Richard has achieved so much already, but it’s clear his potential has barely been tapped. He’s contending for these spots against athletes who have already graduated college – some are nearly a decade older (and more experienced) than Richard, who only turned 19 in April. The U.S. team’s leaders will all be in their mid-to-late 20s come Paris, making Richard’s ability to contend all the more impressive.

“I never even think about my age, but I’m like, wow, they’re so good at this, but then I remember, oh yeah, they had four more years to perfect it,” Richard said of his teammates. “But I have four more years. So it’s exciting to know that I can push at this level now and that, years from now, I can [be] so far ahead of the competition, which is the goal, as long as I stay healthy and keep pushing.”

While there is some friendly competition among the U.S. men’s ranks, Richard is focused on learning from the older athletes on the team while building the bond necessary to contend for world and Olympic team medals. He had the chance to do just that at a recent U.S. training camp in France.

“I think it was very valuable. We all come from different areas of the country with different teachings and different beliefs. So, to come together to share all that we know and just start figuring out how to build this stronger team dynamic, I think it’s valuable for all of us,” Richard said of the June trip. “We really took that camp to figure out what our team standards are and how we want to be seen and what it means to be a USA Olympic gymnast or Olympic-level gymnast.”

The ultimate balancing act

Richard is calm, cool, collected, and driven, but he’s also only 19. So how does he manage chasing his Olympic dream while being a college athlete and, you know, a (semi) normal young adult? The answer is simple: he keeps the same standards for himself in every aspect of life.

“I like to think of myself as an Olympic-level gymnast above everything else,” Richard explained. “NCAA is very important, team-wise, but when I keep that Olympic-level gymnast standard in mind when I train, it [also] prepares me for the NCAA world. That’s kind of like a smaller subsection of that bigger standard that I hold. So I train every day for the biggest competitions; I train for worlds every single day, and then I go and compete at [the NCAA championships], and I kill it because I was pushing such a high standard.”

It’s easy to forget amidst all this training that Richard is also a student. There’s a reason they’re often referred to as student-athletes, because being a student and earning a degree are the root, the requirement, and the precursor to being a college athlete.

“When it comes to school I, I learned how to just, with minimal time, output as as much as I can pretty quickly. Don’t procrastinate and get things done so I can balance it,” Richard said. “But I put a lot of hours into the gym, so it’s a grind, fitting in school and all the other things that come along with being a college student, but balance works.”

As if he’s not already busy, Richard has approximately 750,000 followers across Instagram and TikTok, where he shares behind-the-scenes looks at his training and fun content centered around gymnastics, in general.

“I put a lot of time into it. I have people that I’ve hired for, for recording me when I train and people will come up with ideas with me and I kind of treat it as like, kind of like the business side, I want to grow my name and NIL deals and things like that in the future, you know, make a good living off of it.” said Richard. “So I push that very hard just like gymnastics. And it’s a lot because it adds another two hours to your day of creating content on top of gymnastics, but it’s something I love to do, and I mean, there’s great results from it. You know, people get inspired and you walk on the street and sometimes people recognize you, which is pretty funny.”

A village of Wolverines

Richard has his eyes set on some lofty goals – ones that can’t be achieved without proper coaching and a diligent support staff, and he’s thankful for the village that surrounds him at Michigan, making this journey as smooth as possible so far.

“I think the privilege I have at Michigan is the coaches are very understanding and have that same mindset of pushing for that world level, and so they’ve found a way to create a plan for me that weaves in the college and the Olympic level at the same time, instead of one section of the year being one thing and another section being another,” Richard explained. “So I hold the coaches to that, because I know some teams may not be like that and you kind of just have to do what the coaches say, but my coach has been very understanding and built kind of just a perfect blended plan that does both.”

While nothing goes perfectly according to plan, it seems like all the pieces are falling into place for Richard’s Olympic push – what is likely to be the first of a few.

“Watch out for me. It’s gonna be fun. I hope to bring some big results for this country,” Richard said at the end of our conversation.

We’ll certainly be watching to see how Fred Richard’s journey unfolds. Will you?