USA 2016 Women's Olympic Gymnastics Team: Meet the Athletes
2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
On Sunday, July 10, 2016, with the conclusion of the USA women's gymnastics Olympic Trials in San Jose, California, Marta Karolyi, USA women's gymnastics national team coordinator and wife of legendary gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, made her final decisions regarding the members of the USA Women's 2016 Olympic Gymnastics Team.
Marta Karolyi and other selection committee members used the Trials to take one last look at each of the 14 top-tier, senior elite-level female gymnasts competing at the Trials, whittling down that number to five official team members and three alternates, who will travel to Rio De Janiero, Brazil, to represent the United States as the 2016 USA Women's Olympic Gymnastics Team. Although it has been said that in 2016 the USA has enough top female talent to send both a gold-medal and a silver-medal women's gymnastics team to the Olympics, this of course is not allowed, and Marta and the selection committee could choose only five women for one team. Team members are:
- Simone Biles, who automatically qualified for the Olympic by being the top-scoring gymnast at the Trials
- Gabrielle "Gabby" Douglas
- Lauren "Laurie" Hernandez
- Madison Kocian
- Alexandra "Aly" Raisman
Alternates, although not among Marta Karolyi's top five choices, still have a chance to see their Olympic dreams to come true, if one of the above five members becomes injured or ill, or is disqualified. Alternates are:
- Ashton Locklear
- Ragan Smith
- MyKayla Skinner
Keep reading, below, to learn about each individual athlete.
Simone Biles is possibly the 2016 Olympics' most hyped American athlete; gymnastics insiders say she is arguably the best gymnast the world has ever seen. Before Team USA was officially announced, Simone had long been considered an absolute shoo-in.
During the 2012 Olympics, Simone was 15 and too young to meet the international senior gymnastics competition age requirement of 16. The rule didn't matter much in her case anyway, as at that time she hadn't been training at the senior elite level long, and was not ready for Olympic competition. Time was on her side, and in the years following 2012, Simone has continuously trained and competed like a workhorse, quickly becoming a powerhouse in the sport. Today, at age 19, she has claimed four successive national championships and three successive world championships.
Virtually unknown in 2012, she took the gymnastics world by storm when in 2013 she won all-around titles at both the P&G national championships and World Gymnastics Championships -- and that was just the beginning of her gymnastics victories. In addition to her 2013 world all-around championship, Simone also claimed the title in 2014 and 2015; on top of her 2013 national title, Simone returned and claimed the national all-around title again in 2014, 2015 and 2016. At the most recent P&G National Championship in June of 2016, Simone's first-place combined score was a whopping four full points ahead of Aly Raisman's second-place combined score. In sport where gold and silver medals are often distinguished by only a tenth of a point, a four-point lead is really something.
While some gymnasts specialize in one or two events in which they particularly excel, Simone is known for her strength and excellence in every event. Additionally, she is known for combining elegant artistry with powerfully explosive moves and flawless execution of the most difficult skills. While she obviously takes her sport very seriously, a casual spectator may not realize this, as Simone's huge smile and brightly lit expressions contrast with many other gymnasts, who appear to be scowling or frowning while deep in concentration.
Simone is 4'9" and was born on March 14, 1997 in Columbus, Ohio. She currently lives and trains in the Houston suburb of Spring, Texas. Simone was adopted and raised by her paternal grandfather, Ron Biles, and his wife, Nellie, when her birth mother was unable to care for her due to alcohol addiction and substance abuse.
Watch the video below, as Simone performs on the balance beam and chats with Ellen DeGeneres. She giggles shyly as Ellen reads an impressively long list of Simone's gymnastics accomplishments, including being the first African-American female to win a world all-around title, and being the most decorated American women's gymnast in world championship history. The gift Ellen presents Simone with honors Simone's crush on actor Zac Efron -- the moment is hilarious and priceless.
Simone Biles performs on the Ellen Show
Gabrielle "Gabby" "the flying squirrel" Douglas became America's sweetheart in 2012, when she captured the Olympic women's all-around gold medal as a relative newcomer to the international scene. In 2016, Gabby has again earned a spot on the USA Olympic Women's Gymnastics Team, returning as a 20-year-old, 5'2" veteran as opposed to than the 16-year-old, 4'9" youngster she was in 2012. Gabby has grown up, which in itself isn't a bad thing, but in the world of women's gymnastics, age and height can make training and competing more physically taxing and difficult.
Adding to that difficulty is the fact that after the 2012 Games, Gabby took a year off to relax, sleep in and enjoy life as a normal teenager. Returning to elite-level training is no picnic, and Gabby seems resigned to the fact that Simone Biles could likely replace her as all-around Olympic champion, and perhaps also take Gabby's place as America's sweetheart.
Nevertheless, Gabby remains an Olympic-level elite gymnast whose skill, expertise and ability to perform while under pressure is needed to help the American women win gold in team competition. Unlike 2012, when Gabby was one of the younger members of the "Fierce Five," Gabby now has plenty of international senior-level experience under her belt. Gabby is quite ambitious and feels driven to compete. She is ready and more than willing to move into a different role for 2016 -- and who knows? -- she just might bring home an individual medal or two for herself. She certainly has the skill, talent and motivation to do so.
Gabby did not perform as perfectly as she hoped to during the Olympic Trials, and other gymnasts outscored her overall. However, Marta Karolyi believes in Gabby, viewing her as a solid team member who can pull out a top performance when it really counts. Gabby's prowess on the uneven parallel bars, an apparatus in which the top USA women are considered to be somewhat weak, also helped solidify her spot on the 2016 Olympic team.
In the video below, watch as Gabby delivers a nearly flawless balance beam performance at the American Cup, where she placed first in the all-around competition.
Gabby Douglas: 2016 and better than ever.
Lauren "Laurie" Hernandez turned 16 on June 9 of 2016, meeting the age qualification to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics (to qualify, athletes must turn at least 16 by the end of 2016). Her youthful exuberance and smiling face are difficult to miss; she appears to be oblivious to pressure, turning in solid performance after solid performance, always with a huge smile and shining eyes.
Laurie has been a rising star on Marta Karolyi's Olympics radar for some time now. Laurie's third-place finish at the P&G USA National Championships in June, as well as her second-place all-around performance at the Olympic Trials, impressed Martha Karolyi to such an extent that Karolyi considered her an easy choice for the Olympic team.
As a junior elite gymnast, in 2015 Laurie went undefeated, winning four straight all-around gold medals in both national and international competition. In 2016, although fairly new to senior elite competition, Laurie is already racking up the awards. She placed third over all in her senior-level debut at the 2016 City of Jesolo Trophy international gymnastics competition. In June at the 2016 P&G National Championships, Laurie finished among the top four in all four rotations: floor exercise, balance beam, uneven parallel bars and vault. Many consider the floor routine to be Laurie's best event -- she is known for flawlessly combining the graceful artistry of her training in ballet with powerful, explosive tumbling skills.
As a second-generation Puerto Rican, Laurie is the first Latina artistic gymnast to represent the United States at the Olympic Games. Like so many gymnasts, Laurie first became interested in the sport as a very young girl, after watching a gymnastics performance on TV. Laurie was mesmerized by what she saw and told her parents that she wanted to do what the girls on TV were doing. Laurie started gymnastics as a beginner at age five. Her coach noticed her natural talent for the sport, and by age seven, Laurie was training seriously for competition.
Laurie is 4'11" tall. She calls Old Bridge, New Jersey home. Although she is only 16, Laurie has already committed to attend the University of Florida and plans to begin her college gymnastics career and education there in 2018.
Laurie Hernandez: Floor routine, 2016 P&G National Championships
Madison Kocian, age 19, has been competing at the senior elite level since 2013. However, more so than the other gymnasts chosen for Team USA 2016, Madison has been plagued with injuries, making her journey to Rio somewhat frustrating. Over the last several years, nagging injuries have kept her from doing her best in various competitions, while more recently, an ankle injury prevented her from competing at all in the 2016 City of Jesolo Trophy and 2016 Pacific Rim Championships. Fortunately at this point in time, Madison, her doctors and trainers, and Marta Karolyi have deemed Madison fit as a fiddle and ready for Rio.
Although some consider the USA women's team somewhat weak in the area of uneven parallel bars, the bars are considered Madison's specialty. Gymnastics insiders say that Madison won her spot on Team USA mainly because she has consistently placed either first or second on this apparatus in every major national and international senior-level competition she has participated in since 2012, including claiming four consecutive uneven bars championships in 2015.
Alternate Ashton Locklear was just nudged out of official team status by Madison; up until Marta's announcement, Ashton and Madison had been running neck and neck for a spot on the Olympic team. While Ashton is considered by some to be more technically perfect than Madison, Madison has achieved a higher level of difficulty with her bars routines. Perhaps Marta feels in the weeks leading up to Rio, Madison can be coached to a perform those difficult skills more technically perfect, which would result in higher overall scores for Team USA.
Madison was born, grew up and trains in the Dallas, Texas area, where she first enrolled in gymnastics classes at age six. She graduated from high school in 2015, dedicated this past year to train for Olympic competition, and plans to begin her college gymnastics career and education at UCLA in the fall of 2016.
Below, watch Madison's winning performance on the uneven parallel bars at the 2015 FIG World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. This event's results were somewhat unusual, as the judges gave four gymnasts exactly the same 15.366 score, resulting in a four-way tie for first place. Madison, as well as Fan Yilin of China, and Viktoriia Komova and Daria Spiridonova, both of Russia, all received gold medals for their uneven parallel bars performances.
First-ever 4-way World Championship Tie: Glasgow, Scotland, 2016
What is power tumbling and how is it different from gymnastics?
If you are interested in gymnastics, you will probably also enjoy learning about power tumbling, a similar sport. Find everything you need to know in this linked article: "What is power tumbling and how is it different from gymnastics?"
Like Gabby Douglas, Alexandra "Aly" Raisman returns to the Olympics from the 2012 team with dreams of repeating gold performances in 2016. As captain of 2012's "Fierce Five" USA Women's Olympic Gymnastics Team, Aly has both leadership and Olympic experience under her belt. It is hard to believe that in 2012, at age 18, Aly was the oldest member of the Fierce Five. Now, at age 22, she might seem downright geriatric when compared to the baby-faced gymnasts who will fill the HSBC Arena competition floor in Rio.
Still in exemplary physical shape and with experience and maturity to boot, Aly is aware that at 22 she is more mature than most other Olympic women's gymnastics competitors. However, she is certainly up to the challenge of bringing home gold. In fact, Aly came in second only to Simone Biles at the recent P&G National Championships. After her second-place win at the P&G, Aly told reporters, "I think that I am better (than I was four years ago) and I feel like I'm on track to be a better gymnast than I was." (In addition to contributing to the team gold medal at the 2012 Olympics, Aly placed first in her specialty -- the individual floor competition -- as well as earned a bronze medal in individual balance beam.)
Aly is 5'2" tall and hails from Needham, Massachusetts. When Aly was just two years old, her mother, who was a high school gymnast, enrolled Aly in a "Mommy and Me" gymnastics class, and she has been training ever since. Aly did take some time off after the 2012 Olympics; in 2013, she joined Season 16 of "Dancing With the Stars," finishing in the fourth-place slot. Aly was also featured in ESPN The Magazine's 2015 "Body Issue," where she and other athletes posed (tastefully) in the buff in celebration of the human body.
Aly Raisman's incredible Gold medal floor exercise performance at the 2012 Olympics
Alternate: Ashton Locklear
Like Madison Locian, Ashton Locklear is considered a specialist on the uneven parallel bars. Also like Madsion, Ashton has suffered several injuries which have gotten in the way of her training and competing as a senior elite gymnast. Ashton's injuries include those minor to major, including a fractured back. Despite them all, Ashton claimed gold medals in bars at the 2015 City of Jesolo International Competition in Jesolo, Italy, and the 2015 Pacific Rim Championships, as well as the 2016 2016 P&G Gymnastics Championships and the 2016 U.S. Secret Classic.
Ashton is 18 years old and from Hamlet, North Carolina. She is a member of the Lumbee Tribe of Native Americans. Although numerous universities have recruited Ashton for collegiate gymnastic competition, and at one point Ashton committed to the University of Florida, Ashton ultimately decided to opt out of collegiate gymnastic competition, as she does not want to further aggravate her injuries.
Ashton Locklear demonstrates why she is considered one of the best in the world on bars.
MyKayla Skinner is a strong gymnast in every event, but floor and vault are considered her specialties.
A strong contender for the 2016 Olympic Team, MyKayla placed second in the all-around at the 2015 American Cup, and brought home the all-around gold from the 2015 World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, She was also a member of the United States national team which claimed the gold medal in team competition at the 2016 City of Jesolo Championships.
At the Olympic Trials, MyKayla performed very well, outscoring Gabby Douglas in the all-around competition, and claiming second place in vault. Nevertheless, Marta Karolyi placed Gabby on the team and MyKayla as an alternate. Although MyKayla may feel slighted, one can't argue with Marta's success leading USA women's Olympic gymnastics -- if Marta feels Gabby has what it takes for Team USA to bring home gold, Marta is probably correct.
MyKayla is an even five feet tall, is 19 years old, and hails from Gilbert, Arizona. During high school she studied at home in order to devote more hours to gymnastics training. She is committed to attend the University of Utah on athletic scholarship, but deferred the 2015/2016 school year to train for international competition. Mikki is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.
MyKayla Skinner nails very difficult vault at the 2016 Olympic Trials
Alternate: Ragan Smith
Based upon her doll-like size and appearance, Ragan's powerful athletic prowess may come as a surprise. While it may seem improbable, this tiny pixie is an athletic force and tough as nails. Ragan won her spot as an alternate by giving stand-out performances on all apparatus rotations at the Trials, as well as other 2016 senior elite competitions. For example, she finished second on beam, floor, and in the all-around at the City Of Jesolo world championships in Jesolo, Italy. Additionally, at the 2016 Pacific Rim Championships, she claimed a gold medal on bars. Although just an alternate on Team USA 2016, many gymnastics enthusiasts believe Ragan could be a contender for the 2020 Olympic team if she stays healthy and continues competing.
At only 4' 6", Ragan is the smallest US gymnast on Team USA. She turns 16 years old on August 8, during the Olympic Games. Ragan is from Lewisiville, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. Ragan's coach is Kim Zmeskal, who was a two-time bronze Olympic medalist at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. Ragan is committed to the University of Oklahoma, where she will compete at the collegiate level upon graduation from high school.