Entertainment

Gymnast Ashton Locklear returns to N.C. (with a bodyguard!)

Ashton Locklear signs autographs at Carolina Place mall during a meet-and-greet last month. She will perform Friday at Spectrum Center as part of the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions.
Ashton Locklear signs autographs at Carolina Place mall during a meet-and-greet last month. She will perform Friday at Spectrum Center as part of the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions. tjanes@charlotteobserver.com

North Carolina native Ashton Locklear fell just short – like, barely the width of a balance beam short – of achieving her lifelong dream of becoming a member of the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. But she still managed to become a star.

The 18-year-old Hamlet resident got prime-time attention in July during NBC’s coverage of the Olympic Trials, where she missed the cut but was named one of three alternates for Rio.

And although the team of Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian and Aly Raisman won gold at the Summer Games in August without her help, Locklear has spent the past six weeks on the road with “The Final Five,” wowing crowds with her uneven bars talents as part of the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions.

The non-competitive exhibition – which Locklear says boasts an “ ’80s rock theme” and is “10 times better than the last one” – will be on display at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center on Friday night.

The tour debuted in Spokane, Wash., on Sept. 15; since then, it’s been through more than two dozen cities. But Locklear likely will hear unusually loud cheers here – the uptown arena is less than 20 miles from her home gym in Huntersville, and families of Everest Gymnastics athletes have purchased a large block of tickets for the show. (Several of Locklear’s friends and family members will also be in attendance.)

During a meet-and-greet with Locklear at Carolina Place mall in Pineville last month to promote the tour, the newly minted teen idol – whose following has grown from about 500 Instagram followers to more than 160,000 – seemed to still be trying to let it all sink in.

“We literally feel like rock stars,” she said, “because we’re on the tour bus, sleeping on the tour bus.”

She had just finished signing autographs for several young girls, although it was a tiny group compared to the throngs she’s faced before and after the Kellogg’s Tour shows, where she said she signs at least 500 a night.

“Then there’s some days where we have to sign all the programs before the show, and there’s like thousands of programs,” she said. “I’ve been doing just my first name, and I’m pretty fast at it now.” She also always adds the same bit of apropos flair underneath it: the five interlaced Olympic rings.

Locklear said the schedule is often pretty tight and sometimes they’re forced to squeeze in athletic conditioning sessions at their hotel’s fitness room (imagine finding yourself lifting weights next to Simone Biles!), but that they do find time for a little mall therapy.

“On our days off we have been going out shopping,” Locklear said. And it’s when she and the other gymnasts are out and about that she feels most like a rock star.

“We get recognized everywhere – I’m surprised how much I get recognized, being an alternate. But I think the biggest thing is having a bodyguard go everywhere with us. ... When we go to the mall, he goes to the mall with us. He’s just in the background. But I think that’s the biggest thing, like, ‘Wow, we need a bodyguard?’ It’s crazy.”

Janes: 704-358-5897;

Twitter: @theodenjanes

Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions

The cast also features 2008 Olympic all-around champion Nastia Liukin, 2008 balance beam champion Shawn Johnson, 2012 Olympic team gold medalist Jordyn Wieber, and members of the men’s and rhythmic gymnastics teams.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Where: Spectrum Center, 333 E. Trade St.

Tickets: $29-$299.

Details: 800-745-3000; www.kelloggstour.com.

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