Laurie Hernandez isn’t old enough to vote, but she’s already a golden girl…
The 16-year-old Puerto Rican gymnast helped lead her team to gold in the women’s gymnastics competition at the 2016 Rio Games.
Hernandez and her teammates, the self-proclaimed “Final Five,” proved that the Americans really were just as dominant as they looked during team qualifications, easily winning gold at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
It’s the first time that the U.S. women have won back-to-back gold medals at an Olympic Games.
Russia took home the silver, while China wrangled the bronze away from Japan.
And after Simone Biles’ score went up as the final competitor on floor exercise, the team also announced its much-anticipated team name: the “Final Five.”
The U.S. women opened up on vault with Hernandez, an upstart, putting up a 15.100. Hernandez found herself in the vault lineup after outscoring teammate Gabby Douglas during qualifying. Aly Raisman continued her run of impressive Amanars and nailed the landing once again for a huge 15.833. Biles did what she has been doing for the last three years and scored a 15.933 with a stellar Amanar of her own.
The Americans moved onto the uneven bars where Douglas and Madison Kocian each got their moment to shine. It was the only event that both gymnasts would appear on in the team final competition. They did not disappoint. Douglas put up a 15.766, while Kocian hit the 15.9 mark for the second time at this Olympics with a 15.933.
On the balance beam, Raisman corrected the error she had on her side aerial in the qualifying meet to come away with a 15.000. The scores kept on building from there. Hernandez went up and was rock solid looking more like a veteran, than the young first-time Olympian that she is. Her 15.233 was just shy of the score that landed her in the balance beam event final. Biles had a minor bobble on her acrobatic series early on, but still put up the top score on beam for the United States.
“Man, we were ready,” Hernandez said. “So, so ready.”
The American women beat Russia by 8.209 points, the largest margin of victory since the 1960 Rome Games, where six athletes’ scores were included in each apparatus total. In Rio, only three individual scores were tallied in each event.
A three-time world champion, Biles is the overwhelming favorite to win all-around gold Thursday, but the mantle of breakout American star at these Olympics belongs to Hernandez.
About 36 hours before the start of the team competition, Martha Karolyi, the U.S. national team coordinator, told Hernandez she would be participating in three events—the vault, the balance beam and the floor exercise. Upon hearing the news, Hernandez, the first Latina gymnast on the U.S. team since Annia Hatch a dozen years ago, felt like screaming in joy. She was selected over Douglas, the reigning all-around Olympic gold medal winner, and Kocian, a specialist on the uneven bars.
“I’ve worked so hard for this moment, and I wanted to be out there for my country,” she said. “There was no doubt about my abilities at all in my mind.”
In the preliminary round of the team competition, Hernandez became a trending topic on Twitter after her floor exercise as she danced and tumbled her way into the imagination of fans across the globe. Nicknamed “Baby Shakira” and “The Human Emoji” for her vivid facial expressions, she engaged the crowd with a stage performer’s ease—a prodigy born to be in the bright lights.
In her final floor routine, she again dazzled spectators with her rhythmic moves, first learned in ballet lessons at the age of three. In between opening with a double layout and closing with a tucked double back, she danced like no one was looking, which caused everyone who was looking to roar.
Unable to contain her joy after sticking her final flip—a refreshing trait in women’s gymnastics—she blew kisses to the fans.
“I wish I could dance like Laurie,” Douglas said. “She can feel it during her floor routine like no one else I’ve ever seen. That’s why the crowd loves her so much, because it’s just natural for her.”
Much as the crowd loves her, they won’t see her in the individual floor final. Even though she finished with the third-best score Tuesday, each country can send only two athletes per event, and Biles and Raisman beat her out. She’ll next compete Monday in the balance beam final.