The Rio 2016 Olympics are upon us, and as usual, the women’s gymnastics competition is one of the most highly-anticipated events of the games. Past stars like Mary Lou Retton, Kerri Strugg, and Shannon Miller were the heroes of my youth, and Team USA Women’s Gymnastics has some stellar heroes for my own daughter to look up to, for some amazing reasons. The truth is, in a time where our country is divided in fear, anger, and sorrow because of racial tensions, the diversity of this group of talented young women gives us a reason to celebrate our differences—and to hope.
These five awesomely talented young women are proof positive that we don’t all have look alike to be on the same team. Honestly, from outward appearances, the only thing these ladies have in common is their powerful, well-defined muscles. And yet, on the inside, they all possess a similar work ethic, drive, perseverance, and natural talent that literally makes them the “dream team” of Olympic gymnastic squads. And here’s why.
If you’re an Olympics fan at all, you remember Gabby Douglas as the amazing all-around gold medalist from the 2012 games. She was a history-maker, the first African-American to win all-around gold. Of course, she took home the team gold as well. In four years, she hasn’t lost her FIERCE. Her goal for this year’s games? “I do want to be sharper. When I look at my performances, I’m like, ‘Oo, you’re lagging behind, Gabs.’ The one thing I tell myself is to not get lazy. Nothing is handed to you; you always have to fight for yourself. Personally, I don’t feel as sharp as London, but that’s going to change. Right now, I’m so determined to get back in the gym and be better than before.”
You should also recognize Aly Raisman from the 2012 Olympics gold gymnastics team. This year, at 22, she is the team veteran. Raisman, who is Jewish, was the most decorated member of the 2012 gymnastics squad, winning gold on floor exercise and bronze on beam in addition to the team gold. Raisman is SO good, that even at age 22 and even after taking 2013 and 2014 OFF from competing, she’s back for a second Olympics. AMAZING!
Biles, a newcomer to Olympic competition, makes the 2nd powerful African-American woman on a 5-person squad, and although this is her first Olympics (she was too young to qualify in 2012), she’s already the most-decorate gymnast on the team, with a whopping FOURTEEN world medals—TEN of them gold. Gymnastics insiders are already calling her “the best gymnast of all time,” and Biles’ backstory is extra-amazing: born to an alcohol and drug-addicted mom, she was adopted by her maternal grandfather and his wife at age five. After surviving a tumultuous early childhood, she’s trained, worked hard at her sport, and hasn’t lost a competition in THREE years. All of America is hoping that winning streak extends to the Rio Olympics!
Laurie Hernandez is just 16 years old and the youngest athlete on the squad, but she is FIERCE. Making the Olympic team in your FIRST year of senior competition is a pretty amazing feat! Hernandez is also the first American-born Latina to join the USA Women’s Olympic Gymnastics Team since 1984. She is a standout because of her talent at such a young age, and her expressive routines have earned her the nickname, “the human emoji.”
As you can see in the photo, Madison Kocian, 19, can REALLY fly high on the uneven bars; she is the team’s sole event specialist and is expected to put up the highest score on that event. She won the World Championship on the bars in 2015. Her routines are simply thriling to watch and I can’t wait to see her nail them in Rio! But don’t count her out on other events. Team USA says, “The good news for Kocian and the rest of the team is she is also an all-arounder and can contribute on the other events as needed. She will also hope to make the uneven bars final and turn her world title into Olympic gold.”
Moms, let’s look to this diverse team of hard-working women this summer to teach our girls about persistence, strength, the beauty of all the different skin colors and races that make up our country. And let’s talk to them about how even though we may all look different, we can still all come together with a common goal—working together and loving each other because we’re different, but also because we are so much the same on the inside.
Good luck, ladies! Can’t WAIT to cheer you on in Rio!