The 8 most exciting women to watch in Rio’s gymnastics

Full of strong, talented gymnasts—including a 41-year-old!—Rio’s gymnastics competition will surely make history. Don’t miss watching these stand-out performances from key athletes.

Flavia Lopes Saraiva of Brazil during the 2015 Pan Am Games at the Toronto Coliseum on July 15, 2015 in Toronto.  Vanessa Carvalho | Brazil Photo Press | LatinContent | Getty Images

Gymnastics always ranks at the top of the Olympics must-see list, and Rio will be no different. The U.S. women’s gymnastics team is poised for victory: London 2012 Olympic gold medalists Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman are back for their second games, and Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian are taking the Olympic stage for the first time.

Just like the Magnificent Seven ruled Atlanta 20 years ago, this “phenomenal five” has the goods to bring home lots of gold. But never underestimate the competition, which is always fierce at the Olympics. This year’s home country, Brazil, is rooting for gold medal hopeful Flavia Saraiva, and Russia and Germany both have strong contenders on beam and vault.

Let’s meet Rio’s main contenders.

Simone Biles

If you haven’t heard of Simone Biles yet, get ready: she’ll be a household name by the time Rio concludes. With the potential to sweep all six gold medals, this three-time world champion will be the story of 2016. Her incredible strength and power gives her a scoring advantage that is unrivaled, and barring disaster, Biles will likely be the Olympic champion.

Laurie Hernandez

Make way for rising star Laurie Hernandez. This sixteen-year-old finished second at the Olympic Trials and will make these games her coming-out party. Hernandez’ elegant presentation and bold athleticism epitomizes the strength and spirit of gymnastics—plus, she’s got the captivating personality that turns casual spectators into rabid fans. Tune in for her thrilling floor exercise, and if her stars align, a gold in beam finals.

Gabby Douglas

The 2012 Olympic champion has had a rough road to Rio. Although she won the All-Around silver medal at the 2015 World Championships, her training has been unpredictable this year. Finishing a low seventh at the Olympic Trials, Douglas hopes to surprise everyone and capture the top prize once again. Her biggest competition will come from her own teammates—and from herself.

Aly Raisman

U.S. Women’s Team Captain Aly Raisman was motivated to train for Rio because she didn’t receive a medal during the All-Around competition in London. While her focus is on team gold, this driven athlete wants All-Around “hardware.” The 2012 Floor Exercise Olympic champion will also contend for a medal in Floor Finals.

Madison Kocian

Future UCLA Bruin Madison Kocian hails from the same gym that trained 2008 Olympic champion Nastia Liukin. Kocian was one of four women to tie for gold on bars at the 2015 World Championships, and if she hits, she’ll be standing on the podium once again.

Aliya Mustafina

London’s Uneven Bars Champion returns for her second games. Although Russia’s Mustafina has battled a variety of back and knee injuries since 2012, it’s never wise to count this temperamental athlete out. Plus, she’s been putting up big scores in recent competitions. If she reaches her potential, she’ll be a rival in Rio.

Flavia Saraiva

Keep your eye out for Brazilian sensation Flavia Saraiva. Her balletic style, combined with her winning determination, makes her a standout. If Saraiva can capitalize on competing in front of a very vocal home crowd, she too has the ability to win beam gold.

Oksana Chusovitina

At 41, Uzbekistan’s Chusovitina is a sentimental favorite. Competing in her seventh games, this inspiring athlete continues to wow crowds with her unbelievable athleticism. She’s here to get a medal in the vault finals and is capable of doing just that.

Since the U.S. is all but guaranteed gold, only silver and bronze will be up for grabs in Team Finals. This year’s challengers include China, Great Britain, Russia and Brazil. If any of those countries falter, look for the grace of the Netherlands or the resolve of the Germans and Canadians to make a move. But no matter what happens, it’s sure to be exciting.

Natasha Billawala
Natasha Billawala

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