The Rio 2016 Olympics officially get underway on Saturday, and plenty of early attention at the Games will be commanded by one of the sports that has been an ever present in the modern Olympics dating back to 1896: artistic gymnastics. And those in the United States will have plenty of reason for tuning in.
Not only does the U.S. have a rich history in the sport, particularly in women’s competition, but this time around it has a potential star of the entire Olympics. Simone Biles is already being hailed by many as the greatest gymnast of all time, despite having yet to make her Olympic bow. The 19-year-old, who was too young to compete in London four years ago, has won three successive World Championship titles in the all-around and is as close to a gold-medal lock in the event in Rio as you can get.
Should she do so, she would become the fourth consecutive American woman to win all-around gold. Biles will also lead the U.S. in the team competition, where it is expected to replicate the “Fierce Five,” who became household names after collecting gold four years ago in London.
With such a strong team, the biggest headache for coach Martha Karolyi, who has already whittled the team down at the trials last month, has been to decide which of her team will compete for individual all-around gold, the biggest prize around. Only three gymnasts from each nation can compete, and, with Biles a lock, it leaves just two more spots up for grabs.
As well as Madison Kocian, who will be left to focus on her specialty of uneven bars, Laurie Hernandez looks set to miss out, despite the 16-year-old sensation finishing second at the trials. In order to be eligible for the all-around a gymnast must compete in all four rotations in Sunday’s team qualification round. But podium training at the gymnastic venue on Thursday strongly suggested it will be Hernandez who will miss out.
"I'm disappointed at the possibility of her not competing in the all-around," Hernandez’s coach Maggie Haney said. "I have to respect the decision, but it's hard when I look back and realize she was second both days at Trials and had the second-highest all-around score to Simone coming in. I don't know what to say. I've cried a lot this week."
Instead, the two veterans of the 2012 team, Aly Raisman and the defending all-around Olympic champion, Gabby Douglas, are poised to join Biles. The all-around final will take place on Thursday, the day after the team final. The first medals to be given out in the artistic gymnastics, though, will be in the men’s competition.
The United States’ men’s prospects aren’t nearly as strong as the women, and have not been helped by a knee injury suffered in training that has cruelly ruled John Orozco out of the Games. Alternate Danell Leyva, who won bronze in the individual all-round in 2012, will take Orozco’s place and will join fellow returning Olympians Sam Mikulak and Jake Dalton as well as Alex Naddour and Chris Brooks.
After finishing fifth in the team event four years ago, the U.S. will be after a medal this time around. But it will face a tough task to overhaul the three medalists from four years ago – China, Japan and Great Britain. And, after taking silver in the last two Olympics, Japan is favorite for gold in Rio. That is in large part due to the presence of record six-time world champion Kohei Uchimura, who is looking to land back-to-back individual all-around golds – if he can drag himself away from playing Pokemon Go, that is.
Rio Olympics Artistic Gymnastics Schedule (all times EDT)
Brazil, Japan, Netherlands, South Korea, Mixed Groups
Saturday, Aug. 6, 9.30 a.m.
France, Germany, Great Britain, United States, Mixed Groups
Saturday, Aug. 6, 1.30 p.m.
China, Russia, Switzerland, Ukraine, Mixed Groups
Saturday, Aug. 6, 5.30 p.m.
Belgium, China, Mixed Groups
Sunday, Aug. 7, 8.45 a.m.
Italy, Russia, Mixed Groups
Sunday, Aug. 7 10.30 a.m.
Brazil, Germany, Great Britain, Mixed Group
Sunday, Aug. 7, 1.30 p.m.
Netherlands, United States, Mixed Groups
Sunday, Aug. 7, 4.30 p.m.
Canada, France, Japan, Mixed Group
Sunday, Aug. 7, 7.30 p.m.
Men’s Team Final
Monday, Aug. 8, 3 p.m.
Women’s Team Final
Tuesday, Aug. 9, 3 p.m.
Men’s Individual All-Around Final
Wednesday, Aug. 10, 3 p.m.
Women’s Individual All-Around Final
Thursday, Aug. 11, 3 p.m.
Men’s Floor Exercise Final
Sunday, Aug. 14, 1 p.m.
Women’s Vault Final
Sunday, Aug. 14, 1.46 p.m.
Men’s Pommel Horse Final
Sunday, Aug. 14, 2.29 p.m.
Women’s Uneven Bars Final
Sunday, Aug. 14, 3.20 p.m.
Men’s Rings Final
Monday, Aug. 15, 1 p.m.
Men’s Vault Final
Monday, Aug. 15, 1.54 p.m.
Women’s Beam Final
Tuesday, Aug. 15 2.42 p.m.
Men’s Parallel Bars Final
Tuesday, Aug. 16 1 p.m.
Women’s Floor Exercise Final
Tuesday, Aug. 16 1.45 p.m.
Men’s High Bar Final
Tuesday, Aug. 16 2.30 p.m.