The SAP Center in San Jose, California, was nearly pitch black. Everyone in attendance stood by helplessly as they waited to find out the eight American female gymnasts who would compete with the world’s best at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
At the time, only one person held a guaranteed spot on Team USA – Simone Biles. From the get-go, the one-time UCLA commit and three-time defending world all-around champion’s place was never in doubt. She sealed the deal by placing first at the USA Olympic Gymnastic Trials.
“I’m proud and honored,” said Biles in an interview on NBC’s live broadcast. “I’m an emotional person, and it’s a very good emotional night.”
Biles could breathe easy as she awaited the announcement and so could her family members and coaches.
The others, however, had to wait for USA national team coordinator Márta Károlyi and her staff to tell them if they were heading down to Rio.
One was incoming UCLA freshman Madison Kocian. Although she was a member of Team USA at the last two World Gymnastics Championships and the reigning world champion on the uneven bars, Kocian’s place on the team was far from secure.
This was due to Ashton Locklear’s recent performances on the uneven bars – considered the area of greatest need for the USA – which pushed her into prime contention for the fifth spot on the team.
Both Kocian and Locklear are considered specialists in the uneven bars. At the Olympic trials, Locklear only competed in two of the four events, the uneven bars and the balance beam. Kocian, on the other hand, competed in every event. This difference, Kocian said, might have given her a slight edge.
“Having these extra events is probably helping my case to make that Olympic team,” Kocian said in an interview on Friday per Yahoo! Sports.
Specialist or not, the uneven bars remained the key event for Kocian. On Friday, she scored a 15.750 – the same as Locklear.
On Sunday, however, Kocian stepped it up a notch. She went through her energetic routine with minimal deductions and stuck the landing. The judges gave her a 15.9, a season best.
Locklear got a 15.7, granting the future Bruin Kocian the slight edge.
When the team was formally announced, there was little surprise at the first name called: Biles. Some former athletes are calling her the best female gymnast of all-time, including former all-around Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton.
“Just when we thought we were at the physical limit of the sport, then here comes Simone Biles,” Retton said per ESPN. “She’s the best I’ve ever seen.”
Biles will have her chance to prove Retton and others right next month, where she has a chance to win five gold medals.
Second out of the tunnel was the 2012 Olympic all-around gold medalist Gabby Douglas. Though she had some shaky moments, including falls in both of her balance beam routines, her inclusion in Team USA was expected.
All doubts about Kocian’s involvement ended once the words “reigning world champion on the uneven bars” were announced in San Jose. When she comes to UCLA in the fall, she can list competing in the Olympics among her achievements.
The final two members of the team are Aly Raisman, defending gold medalist in the floor routine, and newcomer Laurie Hernandez, who took the competition by storm with her energy and execution. The three alternates are Locklear, Ragan Smith, and MyKayla Skinner.
After the team was announced, there was only one more piece of business to attend to: the team’s nickname. The 2012 team called themselves the “Fierce Five” and the 1996 team was dubbed “The Magnificent Seven.” What would the 2016 team be called? Simone Biles threw out a possibility on the NBC broadcast.
“We’re still fierce,” Biles said. “So, Fierce Five: Second Generation?”