RIO DI JANEIRO — This year’s U.S. women’s Olympics gymnastics team doesn’t have a nickname — yet.
But if this group wins team gold in the Rio Olympics, like the “Magnificent Seven” did in Atlanta in 1996 and the “Fierce Five” at London in 2012, then these women are going to need their own moniker.
As crazy as it sounds, it’s not impossible for Team USA gymnastics to sweep the team and individual gold medals in Rio. This U.S. team is that loaded.
In addition to winning team gold in London in 2012, Team USA has won team gold at the world championships three consecutive times — 2011, 2014 and 2015 (the team event was not held in 2013).
This year’s five are Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian and Aly Raisman. Ashton Locklear, Ragan Smith and MyKayla Skinner are the alternates if any of the five suffer any injuries.
Raisman’s parents also made headlines on Monday for their, again, squirmy reactions during the competition on Sunday.
Five golds for Biles?
The team is led by 19-year-old Biles, and she has a legitimate chance to win five of the six golds available in Rio. Biles, who resides in Spring, Texas, hasn’t lost an all-around competition (the combined score in all four events — vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise) in three years.
She is a three-time world champion in the all-around and a four-time U.S. all-around champion. Biles has won 14 world medals (10 gold, two silver, two bronze), the most for a U.S. female gymnast.
And she has received high praise from another gymnastics icon: Mary Lou Retton, who was the first American to win all-around gold at the Olympics in 1984.
“Just when we thought we were at the physical limit of the sport, then here comes Simone Biles,” Retton said at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. “She’s the best I’ve ever seen.”
The only hardware missing for Biles — who wasn’t eligible to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London because of her age — is an Olympic medal. Theoretically, that shouldn’t be an issue. The U.S. is the favorite to win team gold. Biles is the clear favorite in the all-around. She’s also in the running to win individual events in vault, beam and floor.
“I don’t really view myself as the world’s best or anything like that,” Biles said in the spring. “I have great confidence in what I do and I’m really just competing against myself out there. I know my whole career is building toward the Olympics and it can sound like a lot of pressure, but I’m just staying focused on what I can control and do my thing. I’m not alone; my family is with me when I’m out there competing. And I do believe in myself. I really do.”
Two ‘Fierce Five’ veterans return
Two members of the Fierce Five are back. Douglas, 20, the defending all-around gold medalist, is making a bit of history already: She’s the first woman since Nadia Comaneci to win the all-around gold medal at the Olympics and return to the Games four years later.
Comaneci did it in 1980 after winning gold in 1976. Douglas, who is based in Los Angeles, struggled in the first night of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, but her grit on the second day shows the “Fierce” part of the Fierce Five.
“Just being named to the team, I’m just so honored and really grateful,” Douglas said. “Because even though I had a lot of mistakes, (national women’s team coordinator Martha Karolyi) believed in me. … I’m more determined now than ever to just go back into the gym and work so hard.”
At 22, Raisman, of Needham, Mass., is the oldest on the team. She’s also the captain. In addition to being part of the gold-medal team in London, Raisman also won gold on floor exercise.
“We thank everyone for all the support,” Raisman said. “We’re very excited and hope to make everyone back home very proud.”
As for the rest of the newcomers, Hernandez is the youngest at 16. The 2015 junior national champion out of Old Bridge, New Jersey, finished second in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in July, behind Biles.
It included a tremendous performance on the balance beam, her final event of the competition.
“When they called my name, it kind of felt like I got hit in the head with a hammer,” Hernandez said. “I was like, ‘Whoa!'”
If the Americans have a weakness, it’s on uneven bars. Enter Kocian, 19, who is from Dallas and is a contender to win gold in the event. In a four-way tie, Kocian won gold on bars at the 2015 world championships.
“It will just be really special being able to walk out there with ‘USA’ on my back and being able to represent them,” Kocian said.
Should the Americans sweep the golds, perhaps by the end of the Rio Olympics this year’s group will be known — as former Olympian Shawn Johnson has said — as the Gold Squad.
“Rio better watch out, because we’re coming,” Douglas said.