With the 2016 Olympic Games just days away from its opening ceremonies in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, there's one member of Team USA that's already making headlines: 16-year-old Laurie Hernandez. Amazingly, this is Hernandez's first year competing in the senior levels of gymnastics — and she's already making history on the U.S. Olympic team. Hernandez is the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team's youngest member, having only just qualified for the team when she turned 16 on June 9th this year. As she makes her Olympic debut in the coming weeks in Rio, fans have begun to learn more facts about Laurie Hernandez and her dazzling ascent in the world of competitive gymnastics.
Hernandez has an impressive collection of gymnastic medals already at just 16-years-old. She began her elite career just four years ago, coming in 21st place in the all-around at the 2012 U.S. Classic, when Hernandez was only 12-years-old. Her junior elite career would be short lived, as her last junior-level competition took place in Yokohama, at the 2015 International Junior Japan Meet, where she took home the gold for all-around and floor exercise. Hernandez placed third in her all-around at the National Championships in June, and came in second behind Simone Biles at the U.S. Olympic trials earlier last month. Here are 5 more facts about Laurie Hernandez that are just as impressive.
1She's the first Puerto Rican ever on Team USA at the Olympics.
While Hernandez resides in Old Bridge Township, New Jersey — her parents, Wanda and Anthony — are from Puerto Rico. She's one of a small group of Hispanic elite athletes that have competed at the Olympic level, including Cuban-American Annia Hatch, who competed in the 2004 games in Athens, and the first Latina U.S. Olympian, Tracee Talavera, who competed in the 1984 Olympic games in 1984.
2She could have been a ballerina.
Hernandez first started taking dance and ballet lessons when she was just 5-years-old — but she wasn't terribly interested in it. According to her profile at NBC's Olympics coverage website, her parents had to bribe her with candy to get her to keep going to classes, but she switched to gymnastics when she saw the sport on television for the first time:
My earliest memory was watching gymnastics on live TV, and wanting to do what the 'big girls' did. I started a gymnastics class at five years old, but it became serious at seven.
3She's had the same coach for her entire gymnastics career.
Even starting gymnastics at only 5-years-old, Hernandez has had the same coach for the past 11 years — Maggie Haney. Speaking to ESPNW.com, Haney said: "I've had her since she was five years old... We have a really close relationship, and I think that's the thing that makes this whole situation work for her."
4She has a very unique nickname.
5She already has college figured out.
Homeschooled since the third grade, Hernandez has already made her commitment for college even though she still has another two years before she'll actually be on campus. In the fall of 2018, Hernandez will be a University of Florida Gator as an NCAA student-athlete. Hernandez announced her University of Florida commitment on Instagram.