Meet the “Final Five”: Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, and Aly Raisman. As those of you who have been following the Summer Olympics in Rio know, the US women’s gymnastics team has dubbed itself the “Final Five.” They have provided two reasons for choosing this moniker: (1) They are the final team to be coached by, Marta Karolyi, arguably the best gymnastics coach in the world at the present time, who has announced she will be retiring following the Olympics; and (2) this is the final Olympics that will have five gymnasts on a team. Commencing in 2020 there will only be four.
Earlier this week, they won the team gold medal, and it wasn’t even close. According to Olympic gymnastics tv analysts Tim Daggett and Nastia Liukin, the final margin of ten points over China (185.238 – 175.279) is extremely dominant in gymnastics. They struggled to find a valid comparison to other sports and finally settled on a 50 or maybe 100 point margin in a football or basketball game. That would compare their dominance to that exhibited by the men’s basketball “Dream Team” in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Hyperbole? Perhaps, but you get the idea.
Many observers are calling them the best team ever. Shannon Miller, a member of the gold medal winning “Magnificent Seven” team in 1996 has labeled them “the best team we’ve ever had” based upon their “incredible talent, nerves of steel, amazing consistency,” and the “level of difficulty” of their routines. Adds Daggett, “they never fall!” But, beyond these expert testimonials, by merely using the “eye test,” even the most casual observer can readily see how much better they are than anyone else.
In addition to their extraordinary talent it is a pleasure to see how they relate to one another. When competing they are deadly serious. But, in between routines, they are continuously giggling, holding hands, joking with one another, and openly rooting for each other. During the changeovers for individual all-around completion Biles and Raisman were actually holding hands in mutual support as if to say, “I’m with you. I’ve got your back.” Daggett and Liukin pointed this out and both stressed its importance in helping one to relax.
Another measurement of their dominance is that in the qualifying round they had the three highest scorers. Since the rules only permit a maximum of two gymnasts per team to compete in the all-around competition finals, the team’s third best performer, Gabby Douglas, who was also the third best in the entire field and the defending gold medalist, no less, was unable to defend her title.
Below please find a brief profile of each:
- Simone Biles – Quite simply, Simone is not merely the best gymnast in the world at this time, she is the best in many years, and many observers consider her to be the best ever. She has completely dominated the sport for three years. She has not lost an all-around competition since mid-2013, winning 15 total medals, including ten gold. Her victory in the individual all-around competition has extended the US’s dominance in the sport. It has produced four women’s all-around gold medalists in a row and five all-time (Mary Lou Retton – 1984, Carly Patterson – 2002, Nastia Liukin – 2008, and Gabby Douglas – 2012).
- Gabby Douglas – In a sport where sacrifice and single-minded dedication are commonplace and even necessary for success, Gabby went even further than most. In order to maximize her development as a gymnast, from the age of 14 she left her family in Virginia to move to Iowa to train with a particular coach, Liang Chow, at Chow’s gym. She lived with a surrogate family. Now, that is going the extra mile. It has paid off. She made the 2012 team, which became known as the “Fierce Five.” Moreover, she won the all-around competition. As I said, as an illustration of the considerable depth of this team, Gabby did not even qualify to compete in the all-around competition despite having the third best qualifying total in the entire field. In most years she would have been a strong contender for an all-around medal.
- Laurie Hernandez – She is from Old Bridge, NJ. It all began for her when her parents signed her up for dance instruction at the age of five. She spied the gymnastics equipment and was hooked. Her best event may be the floor exercise, but she is very proficient in all events. She has a very outgoing personality. Her long-time coach calls her “naturally sassy” and a “human emoji,” based upon her tendency to make various facial expressions.
- Madison Kocian – Basically, she is a specialist in the uneven bars. Daggett denoted that that was the main reason Karolyi added her to the team. She did her job, hitting her routine, which helped the team win, and she qualified for the individual competition finals in the event.
- Aly Raisman – Alexandra Rose Raisman is from Needham, MA. She is the captain of the team, as she was of the “Fierce Five” in 2012. At 22, she is the “elder statesman.” Appropriately, the others affectionately call her “grandma.” It’s easy to see that in addition to being one of the best gymnasts in the world she is a natural leader. She is essentially the “glue” that holds the team together. In 2012 she tied for the bronze medal in the all-around but was beaten out by an arcane tiebreaker. After licking her wounds for a while she re-dedicated herself to the sport resolving to win a medal. She even had to convince her coach that she still had the “fire in the belly” before he agreed to train her for 2016. This time, she won the silver, and in a “normal” year, i.e. when she was not competing against an unbeatable superstar named Simone, she would likely have won gold. Ally’s selflessness is best illustrated by the fact that before the finals she told Simone “I want you to win, and I want second.” And, sure enough, that’s what happened.
- Marta Karolyi – Marta was born in Hungary in 1942 in an area that is now part of Romania. She and her husband, Bela, developed a very successful gymnastics training program in Romania. Their most famous protege was Nadia Comaneci, who won a total of five gold medals in the 1976 and 1980 Olympics and famously scored a perfect ten in Montreal in 1976. The Karolyis defected to the US in 1981 and established their own training facility in Houston. Bela was the more highly visible of the two, and Marta preferred to work behind the scenes focusing on the technical aspects, such as training, choreography and instruction. Soon, they had established themselves as the “go to” coaches in the country and trained many national and Olympic champions. Eventually, Bela’s abrasive personality resulted in too many complaints by the gymnasts’ personal coaches, and in 1996 he was forced to retire as national coordinator. In 2001 Marta became the national coordinator of the sport. Since then, the success of the program has been unparalleled. She has trained champion after champion. Among her various responsibilities are selecting the team members and recommending programs and routines. She works them hard and pays strict attention to detail. The athletes say the practices and internal competitions are more challenging than the actual meets. The proof can be readily seen not only in the gymnasts’ talent in the gym, but, just as importantly, in their poise, demeanor and team camaraderie. As I said, it’s obvious the young women have a genuine love and respect for each other and they excel under the extreme pressure of the competition.
The “Final Five” have been a joy to watch. The individual competitions are next, and they will all be competing in at least one of them. I highly recommend you watch them. We may never again be privileged to see a team like this one.