at 1469839320 By: Julia Grassie
This gymnast, known for her personality-filled floor routines, will one of the youngest Olympians on Team USA
Lauren Hernandez was born on June 9, 2000 in New Brunswick, NJ. Her parents put their 5-year-old daughter in dance and ballet classes, but it wasn’t holding her attention—her parents had to bribe her with sugar cookies to make her go to class. On day, a more exhilarating sport caught her eye.
"My earliest memory was watching gymnastics on live TV, and wanting to do what the 'big girls' did," Hernandez said. "I started a gymnastics class at five years old, but it became serious at seven."
Hernandez began taking recreational classes, and also gained the nickname Laurie because there were other Laurens at her gym. Soon she was spotted by Maggie Haney, who has now been her coach for nearly 10 years. Haney hadn’t coached an elite gymnast before, but the two learned and grew together as a team.
When Hernandez was nine, Haney started looking into getting her promising young gymnast into USA Gymnastics’ national development camps. She could attend if she had a high enough score in the Talent Opportunity program (TOPs), which measures basic gymnastics skills and physical aptitude. According to ESPNW, when Haney’s contact at USA Gymnastics looked up Hernandez’s TOPs score, she said, "Oh, she's the No. 1 TOPs kid in the country. She can come."
Hernandez rose quickly through the ranks of junior gymnastics—in 2012 she finished 21st in the all-around at the national championships, and in 2013 13-year-old Hernandez finished second and won event medals on uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise.
But then she was hit by injury, first fracturing her wrist early in 2014 and then dislocating her right kneecap, tearing her patella ligament and bruising her MCL all on one bad vault landing that same year. The knee injuries required surgery and a piece of a cadaver’s ligament was attached to her own.
She didn’t compete at all in 2014 as she worked her way back to full strength. She had no trouble making up for lost time in 2015: she went undefeated in the all-around over all four of the competitions, two domestic and two international, she entered that year. At the national championships, she not only claimed the all-around gold but won medals on all four events: gold on uneven bars, silver on floor exercise, and bronzes on vault and balance beam.
Still just 15 years old, Hernandez burst into the conversation surrounding possible Olympic teams. Luckily, she became age-eligible to compete in the Rio Games when she turned 16 in 2016.
Laurie Hernandez with her medals, including all-around gold, from the 2015 Junior National Championships. Credit: USA Today Sports
Hernandez made her senior debut at the 2016 City of Jesolo Trophy, a friendly international competition in Italy. She fit right in with the older, more experienced gymnasts, helping the U.S. women to team gold and winning beam gold, vault silver and all-around bronze.
Hernandez put in a more than solid performance at her next competition, the Pacific Rim Championships. Three-time world champion Simone Biles won the all-around, with 2012 Olympic floor champion Aly Raisman finishing second—and then just 0.100 points behind Raisman was Hernandez.
Laurie Hernandez competes on floor with attitude at Pac Rim
Hernandez then had to hit pause on her training to treat another knee injury, and she only competed on two events at the Secret U.S. Classic. After using Classics as a tune-up meet, Hernandez showed her strongest gymnastics yet at the 2016 P&G Championships. She again finished just behind Biles and Raisman to claim all-around bronze, and finished third on three events.
P&G Champs: Laurie Hernandez's beam routine
P&G Champs: Laurie Hernandez on her wow-worthy competition
Olympic Trials highlights
Hernandez was at her best at the 2016 Olympic Trials, showing no signs of struggling with the immense pressure on her shoulders. She finished second in the all-around and earned the highest scores on beam.
Olympic Trials: Laurie Hernandez scores 15.15 on vault
Olympic Trials: Laurie Hernandez scores 14.9 on uneven bars
Olympic Trials: Laurie Hernandez is crowd favorite on floor
Olympic Trials: Laurie Hernandez scores 15.700 on beam
Hernandez will make her Olympic debut in Rio.
If Hernandez is selected for the team, she’ll be the first U.S.-born Hispanic athlete to make the U.S. women’s gymnastics Olympic team since Tracee Talavera at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Hernandez’s grandparents are from Puerto Rico.
She also could be one of the youngest athletes on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team. She is just 10 days older than the current youngest Olympian named to the team, table tennis player Kanak Jha.
Hernandez competes with no shortage of expressiveness and personality, especially on the floor exercise. International Gymnast Magazine called Hernandez the “Human emoji” and gymnastics podcast Gymcastic nicknamed her “baby Shakira.” With her early dance training and inimitable style, Hernandez always puts on a show when she performs.
After her gymnastics career ends, Hernandez says she’d love to keep performing—but as an actress.
P&G Champs: Laurie Hernandez performs dramatic floor routine
"Not only her gymnastics but her energy and her presence is very demanding. You would never know she's a first-year."
"I think for her this was very important moment, because the [Olympic] selection starts now, all of this goes in the records. And she showed very calm, very composed performances. And also very poised, pretty artistical, so I think she did a good service to herself because she is on the list, right on there.” – national team coordinator Martha Karolyi after the 2016 Pacific Rim Championships
"It starts off a little bit old school, in the beginning I do a little dance where it looks like I’m a waitress, you know with the skirts and the hair in the bun and the headband and everything. And then all of a sudden, it just snaps into very modernized music, the same tune but just a different way of playing it. And that’s where I think the crowd is really gonna love it, because it’s very upbeat music and I really feel this routine.” – Laurie Hernandez on her new floor routine for 2016
Outside the Gym
Hernandez has been homeschooled since the third grade, and is planning to continue both her education and her gymnastics career as an NCAA student-athlete at the University of Florida.
For fun, Hernandez enjoys learning dances off YouTube, doing her nails, and reading—she names The Maze Runner as her favorite book. She also shows her creativity by writing poems, sketching and using Photoshop to edit photos.
How to watch Laurie Hernandez in Rio
Laurie Hernandez will begin her Olympics on Sunday, August 7th at 4:30 p.m. ET in subdivision four of the women’s qualification session. The scores Hernandez earns here will count towards qualifying for the all-around and event finals, as well as to the team final (along with the other U.S. women).
The team final will take place on Tuesday, August 9th at 3 p.m. ET. Hernandez and her teammates will face off against teams from Russia, China, Great Britain and more in hopes of defending the team gold won by the Fierce Five in 2012.
If Hernandez qualizifies for the all-around final, she will then compete as an individual in the all-around final on Thursday, August 11th at 3 p.m. ET.
If Hernandez qualifies for the event finals, the women’s vault and uneven bars finals will be held on Sunday, August 14th at 1 p.m. ET, the women’s balance beam final will be held on Monday, August 15th at 1 p.m. ET and the women’s floor competition final will be held on Tuesday, August 16th at 1p.m. ET.