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Gymnastics Things

The Olympic champ wants to make the ultimate comeback in Rio, but history isn’t on her side

The last Olympic all-around champion to successfully defend her title was Vera Caslavska in 1968. The last Olympic all-around champion to even return for a second Olympics was Nadia Comaneci in 1980, when she finished in second place. So no matter how Douglas performs, she’s already accomplished something rare by being a reigning all-around champion on a second Olympic team. But having two gold medals from the 2012 Olympics plus a team gold and all-around silver from the 2015 World Championships doesn’t mean she won’t have something to prove, especially after her performances at the Olympic Trials. She fell off the beam on both days of competition, dropping her down to seventh place in the all-around. But her consistently solid scores on the uneven bars, plus her ability to contribute in a team final on floor and vault if needed, earned her a place on the five-woman squad. She'll need to be at her sharpest to earn a place in the all-around final in Rio.

Four years ago, Douglas earned the title of best gymnast in the world when she won two gold medals at the London Olympics.

Aly Raisman

She’s the team captain and everyone's “Grandma”

22 is not old in any other sport, but three-time Olympic medalist Raisman is very aware that she’s no longer a fresh face; after all, her teammates call her “Grandma” and “Mama Aly” for her tendency to nap every chance she gets. But with age comes experience: she was voted the team captain of the Fierce Five in London and the Rio squad chose her as captain, too. Plus she’s rediscovered her confidence after a string of uncharacteristic errors in late 2015 and early 2016 made it look like she might be struggling under the pressure to return to Olympic form. She turned a corner in early April and made the podium at her last four competitions—and reminded everyone why her original nickname was “Reliable Raisman.”

The team captain of the U.S. women's gymnastics team at the 2012 Olympics is leading the way to Rio.

Laurie Hernandez

She’s nicknamed “Baby Shakira” but competes with the confidence of a veteran

A year ago, Hernandez was wrapping up an undefeated 2015 season with all-around wins at the national championships and an international meet in Japan—but in the junior division, as Hernandez was 15 years old. She graduated to the senior ranks just in time for the Rio Olympics and looked right at home alongside the older, more experienced gymnasts. Not only did she share the all-around podium with Simone Biles and Aly Raisman at the 2016 P&G Championships and Olympic Trials, but she also converted entire arenas into screaming fans with a floor routine that emphasizes her dance ability and sassy personality as much as her powerful tumbling. Watch and learn why they call her “Baby Shakira.”

This gymnast, known for her personality-filled floor routines, will one of the youngest Olympians on Team USA

Madison Kocian

She’s a dynamo on uneven bars and trains at the same gym that produced Nastia Liukin and Carly Patterson

Kocian may look unassuming, but as she showed the world when she and her impressive arm muscles starred in an Under Armour commercial, she is actually a baby-faced killer on the competition floor. Her strongest event is uneven bars, where she consistently puts up smooth routines that look perfectly easy despite being some of the most difficult in the world. At the last two world championships, Kocian’s bars scores helped push the U.S. women into first place in the team competition. And at the 2015 Worlds, Kocian qualified individually for the uneven bars final and posted the top score—which was then tied by three other gymnasts. Kocian, Viktoria Komova and Daria Spiridonova of Russia and Fan Yilin of China all shared the podium as co-champions, but only one gymnast will get to claim Olympic gold in Rio.

Sam Mikulak

He has the star power if not the consistency

Mikulak was 19 years old at the London Olympics, a stand-out NCAA gymnast at the University of Michigan who was thrilled to finish fifth in the vault final. Now, with four consecutive national all-around titles, Mikulak will head to Rio as the best all-around U.S. male gymnast and the corresponding expectations. While his stack of domestic titles is impressive, he’s won those gold medals with mixed performances: it’s not uncommon for Mikulak to turn in a handful of superlative, medal-worthy routines and then one completely botched skill or a hard fall. If he wants to challenge Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, the reigning Olympic all-around champion, for gold, he’ll need to be brilliant on every single apparatus.

Get to know the meditating, dancing and tea-drinking gymnast who hopes to be back for his second Olympics in Rio.

Jake Dalton

He has the consistency—if not the star power

Dalton has been the U.S.’ top man on vault and floor since 2009, when he won his first vault title at the national championships. In the years since, he’s won either a floor or vault medal at seven of the last eight U.S. championships, only missing 2015 when a torn labrum in his shoulder kept him out of competition. He also helped the U.S. men to team bronzes at the 2011 and 2014 World Championships, and claimed an individual Worlds silver on floor in 2013 and a bronze on vault in 2014. With his powerful and steady brand of gymnastics, Dalton may not deliver fireworks but he does deliver under pressure.

Alex Naddour

He redeems the U.S. on pommel horse but isn't a one-trick pony

Pommel horse has always been Naddour’s strongest event, and he has four national titles and two top-eight world championships finishes to prove it. And when he was a non-competing alternate on the 2012 Olympic team, he watched the team final from the stands as pommels proved to be the U.S. men’s Achilles heel: they put up their three lowest scores of the night on the apparatus, and finished fifth. But Naddour realized in recent years that he needed to be able to offer high scores on more events to make himself indispensable to the team. So with the encouragement of his wife, two-time world champion gymnast Hollie Vise, and the motivation of his infant daughter, Lilah, he moved up the U.S. ranks on still rings and floor.

Naddour, the top U.S. gymnast on the pommel horse, is married to a two-time world champion and recently became a father.

Chris Brooks

He’s pushing thirty but ready for his hard work to finally pay off

A first-time Olympian at 29 years old, Brooks’ long road to Rio included 10 surgeries over 12 years and a stint as an alternate for the 2012 Olympic team. But in his own words, he told himself, “At this point, you're old, you're broken, so give it all you got” and made the most of his final chance to make his Olympic dream come true. With second-place finishes in the all-around at the 2016 P&G Championships and Olympic Trials, Brooks proved he had both the skills and the heart to be on the team. A few weeks later, his Olympic teammates honored Brooks by voting him team captain.

Brooks will make his Olympic debut in Rio at age 29, making him the oldest first-time U.S. Olympic gymnast in over 40 years.

Source: www.nbcolympics.com
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