Hezly Rivera Earns Spot on U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team Set to Compete at 2024 Paris Games

Hezly Rivera is heading to Paris…

Considered a long shot to make Team USA’s Women’s Olympic Gymnastics team when the U.S. trials began on Friday, the 16-year-old Latina gymnast wowed the crowd in Minneapolis — and, more importantly, the selection committee — with a clutch performance over the weekend in a pair of events that the Americans will need the most.

Hezly RiveraIn the process, Rivera earned a coveted spot on the team, finishing in fifth place behind Simone Biles, Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles and Jade Carey.

“I’m so grateful for everything. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to be here, so I”m so incredibly grateful forever,” said Rivera after making the team. ”I could not be more happy. I’m ecstatic.”

Rivera, who turned 16 on June 4, started in gymnastics when coaches spotted her at a friend’s birthday party at the age of 5. Her family moved to Texas two years ago so she could train at one of the nation’s best gymnastics centers, WOGA Plano, with an eye on a weekend like this one.

“It’s crazy to me. It came so fast. I feel like it was yesterday just watching it and now the opportunity to make the team is just amazing,” Rivera said told a Dallas TV station recently.

Hezly RiveraHer four teammates competed for Team USA in the 2020 Tokyo Games. It seemed like the fifth gymnast on the team would have significant experience, too, until an unthinkable rash of injuries changed everything.

Skye Blakely, a member of the last two U.S. teams that won gold at the world championships, suffered a ruptured Achilles during training. Kayla DiCello, another strong contender to make the team, also hurt her Achilles on the vault and left the arena floor in a wheelchair. Then, in the final stunner, Shilese Jones — a virtual lock to make the team after winning a medal at the last two worlds — injured her knee and was limited to a single event at the trials.

“Simone Biles and … whoever is left standing for Paris?” read a headline in USA Today.

Unlike the do-or-die nature of the U.S. Olympic trials in other sports, Team USA only has one automatic qualifier from the event — the winner — and that was always going to be Biles. Still, given the turbulence with the injuries, most observers believed a strong performance on Sunday night could help a gymnast claim the fifth and final spot on the team.

Hezly Rivera & Team USARivera was close to perfect. She started the night with a 14.3 on the uneven bars and followed that with a 14.275 on the beam — a score that was one of the best in the competition. Those were the two apparatus that Team USA needed the most from the fifth gymnast.

Rivera finished fifth in the all-around competition with an impressive score of 111.15, two two-tenths of a point behind Carey.

Rivera’s star turn wasn’t supposed to come until 2028, although recent performances should give Team USA reason for optimism. She competed in the senior women’s division at the 2024 Winter Cup and finished third in the all-around — behind DiCello and Blakely — and, perhaps as importantly, took gold on the balance beam.

When she nailed her performance on the uneven bars earlier this month at the U.S. Championships, a video of her father, Henry, celebrating in the crowd went viral.

For NBC, the Olympics are 16-day TV show, and having the fresh-faced Rivera compete alongside the legend Biles will become a fascinating side story that will play out in primetime.

She won’t be the first Latina teenager to compete on the world stage. Laurie Hernandez, who’ll be part of NBC’s coverage from Paris, won an individual silver and a team gold medal at the 2016 Rio Games when she was 16.

Now, Hezly Rivera will try to follow in her footsteps.

“We’re going to Paris, baby!” her father, Henry Rivera, said in the crowd.