On Friday, the 554 members of the U.S. Olympic Team will proudly enter the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during the opening ceremonies of the 26th Summer Olympic Games. Among the team is a relative newcomer and rising start on the gymnastics team: Laurie Hernandez. Having only just qualified for the U.S. Olympic team when she turned 16 on June 9 — many fans are speculating that this young new gymnastics star is the one to watch during the games. Is Laurie Hernandez the youngest U.S. gymnast to compete in the Olympics?
Even though the pint-sized gymnast — known as the "Human Emoji" in the gym — looks like she'd be the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team, Hernandez actually isn't the youngest to have ever competed for the United States. In fact, she's not even the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team this year. Kanak Jha, a table tennis player who's played in the professional circuit in Europe, is the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team this year — he's just 10 days younger than Hernandez. But even Jha isn't the youngest U.S. Olympian. You have to go back way further in Olympic history.
Meet Marjorie Gestring, the youngest U.S. Olympic athlete in the team's 122-year history. Gestring was only 13 years old at the 1936 Summer Olympic games in Berlin, Germany, where she was a competitive springboard diver. Not only was Gestring the youngest Olympian to ever compete for the United States, she still holds the record for the youngest Olympian to win a gold medal — ever.
Sadly, Gestring was unable to defend her title four years later, as the 1940 Summer Olympics were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II; they were to be held in Tokyo, Japan. The U.S. Olympic Committee decided to award medals in lieu of actually participating in the games, so Gestring earned a second gold medal. Gestring would never defend her title again in the pool: In the run up to the 1948 Summer Olympics, she failed to qualify for the U.S. team.
While Laurie Hernandez might not be the youngest U.S. Olympian, or even the youngest U.S. Olympic gymnast — Dominique Moceanu holds that record at just 14 years old — it's still pretty impressive that she could very well be on her way to a gold medal even before she learns how to drive a car.