With more than 10,000 athletes from over 200 countries spread across the 2016 Rio Summer Games, it may prove difficult for any one competitor to stick out. Unless that athlete is U.S. women’s gymnastics team member Laurie Hernandez, the youngest on the 2016 squad and medal hopeful in the all-around and balance-beam competitions.
The 16-year-old hails from Old Bridge, New Jersey, and is the first Puerto Rican and just the third Latina to make the U.S. gymnastics team. She headlines a talented group that’s heavily favored to claim outright gold when the competition begins on Aug.9.
Hernandez is joined by such top names as Gabby Douglas, who was part of 2012’s gold medal team in London and claimed the all-around prize, along with 19-year-old Simone Biles. Another first-time Olympian like Hernandez, Biles has dominated the international stage leading up to the Games, winning the last three world championships in the all-around competition and two straight on the balance beam.
Marking her first time on the senior team, Hernandez came in third at the U.S. championships and second at the Olympic trials last month and she’s already hoping to capitalize on her newfound success.
According to USA Today, Hernandez has signed with Olympics agent Sheryl Shade ahead of the games, a move that will only help Hernandez grow her brand should she prove successful in Brazil. Shade has previously represented top Olympians like former U.S. gymnasts Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, as well as David Boudia and Paul Hamm.
Though some might doubt Hernandez has the experience to help a group that already includes Biles and Douglas, she took to gymnastics at an early age and has followed through on her aspirations ever since.
“My earliest memory was watching gymnastics on live TV, and wanting to do what the ‘big girls’ did,” Hernandez told NBC back in April. “I started a gymnastics class at five years old, but it became serious at seven. A goal of making it to the Olympic Games has motivated me to work very hard in my sport.”
Reportedly logging six-hour days six days a week in training, the hard work paid off almost immediately at the start of Hernandez’s first competition with the senior team. Hernandez made her debut in March at the City of Jesolo competition in Italy, earning gold on the beam, silver on the vault, and bronze in the all-around contests.
China and Russia are expected to give the Hernandez and U.S. a big test in Rio. At the 2012 Summer Games in London, China and Russia earned 12 medals including five gold medals for China and three for Russia. The U.S. finished with six total medals, including three gold.