"I hate that that happened to him," Hernandez told PEOPLE

By Karen Mizoguchi and Patrick Gomez
Updated December 19, 2019 09:39 AM
Credit: Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty Images

Laurie Hernandez is arguably the frontrunner of this Dancing with the Stars season.

The Olympic gold medalist and partner Val Chmerkovskiy scored an impressive 31 out of 40 with their cha cha debut dance just moments after Ryan Lochte was ambushed by protesters. Two men – who both donned white Lochte T-shirts with a red circle and line through his name – walked in front of host Tom Bergeron and yelled into the camera after the swimmer’s performance.

The bright lights and cheering crowds of the live show would understandably make anyone nervous already, and the commotion would’ve been a cherry on top.

Not for 16-year-old Laurie though.

“In gymnastics there have been times that a girl has gone out right before me and gets injured and has to be taken out on a stretcher,” Hernandez told PEOPLE about not being nervous to follow Lochte.

“I just have to block that out of my mind and focus on what I have to do, so that’s what I did tonight,” the Final Five team member said.

Hernandez added, “I hate that that happened to him though because he came here to dance and put all that to the side, and for it to follow him here is really sad.”

Before Hernandez took the stage, Lochte and partner Cheryl Burke were seen getting visibly upset off-camera. “Ryan was backstage and close to tears,” fellow season 23 contestant Jana Kramer told PEOPLE backstage.

As for Lochte’s reaction, the six-time gold medalist told E!: It felt like “someone reached inside and ripped my heart out and stepped on it.”

Dancing with the Stars returns Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.