SAN JOSE, Calif. – The U.S. women’s gymnastics team headed to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will have that familiar gold-medal feeling.
Any drama about the final five waned early Sunday night at the Olympic Trials, as Gabby Douglas paired a clutch vault with a nearly flawless uneven bars routine to cement her chance to defend her first-place all-around finish at the 2012 London Games.
She will be joined by the woman most likely to take her individual crown, Simone Biles, who was so amped up during her floor exercise that she took a step forward and got a deduction. No matter – Supernova Simone is the runaway favorite in Rio and anything but an all-around gold would be a surprise.
“Grandma” Aly Raisman will return to the Olympics for a second time, seeming calm and sure at the age of 22. She is the emotional leader of the group, and she had the least amount of drama this weekend. She was a stalwart on the beam, betraying no skittishness despite several falls from teammates this weekend, including Biles.
Then there are the newer names to know: Laurie Hernandez, 16, will be one of the youngest Olympians at the Rio Games. She captivated the crowds here at SAP Center to such an extent that a current of murmurs ricocheted through the stands when she approached the floor for her routine. Chants of “Laurie! Laurie!” soon followed, and she delivered with a panache that has given her Wheaties Box star power if not the scores to compete with Biles.
The final spot went to Madison Kocian, the Dallas native who got her start in gymnastics because she climbed out of her crib so often as a baby. She cinched her spot with a stellar uneven bars routine – a crucial component considering Biles is so good on floor and vault.
The biggest question mark, surprisingly, was Douglas, who seemed wobbly on Friday and raised even more questions after a recent coaching switch. She even admitted “I lost the joy” at one point between London and now. Yet she has a reputation for big performances in big moments, and that won her spot despite another fall on the balance beam on Sunday.
National team coordinator Martha Karolyi said the team’s fifth and final spot came down to Douglas and bars and beam specialist Ashton Locklear. Douglas won out because of her ability to compete in all four disciplines.
Locklear is one of the team’s three alternates, along with MyKala Skinner and Ragan Smith.
“My whole career,” Karolyi said, “this is the hardest decision I’ve had to make.”
“Me personally, I feel like I don’t look as sharp as London,” Douglas said. “But that’s going to change. It’s gonna change. Because I’m so determined to get back in the gym and be better than before.”
The group is as diverse in background as it is in age, with two African-Americans (Douglas and Biles), a Latina (Hernandez), and a Jewish-American (Raisman). But one trait of the team has remained the same for years and continues into Rio: its strong chances of winning gold again.