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How the Fierce Five won the London Olympics

Fierce Five bite their medals

How the Fierce Five won the London Olympics

With the team title and four individual medals, the U.S.' female gymnasts struck gold at the 2012 London Games

From being named to the Olympic team to becoming household names, how Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Kyla Ross became the "Fierce Five" and the second-ever U.S. women's gymnastics team to win Olympic gold. 

July 2: Olympic Trials

2012 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team at Olympic Trials

Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Jordyn Wieber and Kyla Ross after being named to the 2012 U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team. Credit: USA Today Sports

The stacked field at the 2012 Olympic Trials in San Jose, CA included 2008 Olympians Nastia Liukin, Alicia Sacramone and Bridget Sloan, but it was the new faces that commanded the selection committee's attention. At the end of the two-day competition, Gabby Douglas defeated the reigning all-around world champion, Jordyn Wieber, for the highest all-around score and earned herself an automatic spot on the Olympic team. The other four members were decided behind closed doors by the selection committee. After a suspense-filled wait, Wieber, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross were named to the team and celebrated with nearly equal quantities of tears and confetti. 

July 18: Sports Illustrated

Fierce Five gymnasts on the cover of Sports Illustrated

Credit: Sports Illustrated

For the first time since Kerri Strug in 1996, a gymnast (or in this case, five) appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The article predicted that Douglas and her teammates could be the strongest U.S. women’s gymnastics team ever. Some worried about the rumored SI cover jinx—that a heralded cover subject won’t live up to the hype—but  the Fierce Five proved to be even more successful than forecasted. 

July 29: Qualifications at the London Olympics

McKayla Maroney

McKayla Maroney gives her coach a high five at performing her vault in the qualification round at the 2012 London Olympics Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Kyla Ross on beam

Kyla Ross on beam in the qualification round of the 2012 London Olympics. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman

Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman hug during the qualification round at the 2012 London Olympics. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The American women faced their first Olympic challenge on July 29th during the qualifications round, which determines who advances to the team, all-around and event finals. As expected, Team USA easily qualified in first place for the team final, nearly 1.5 points ahead of the Russians.

It was also considered a given that the American women would qualify two athletes, the max allowed per country, to the all-around final. As the reigning world champion, Jordyn Wieber was considered a heavy favorite for all-around gold—so gymnastics fans and the team alike were shocked when Wieber's ranking in the qualification round meant she wouldn’t advance to the all-around final.

Jordyn Wieber

Jordyn Wieber reacts after realizing she would not advance to the all-around final due to the two-per-country rule. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Finishing fourth overall, but behind her two teammates, meant Wieber would be left out while Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, who finished second and third respectively, were in. Raisman looked visibly stunned to have finished first among her teammates, as just months before she settled for bronze behind Raisman and Douglas at the national championships.

July 31: The team final

The U.S. women's gymnastics team enters the arena for the team final. Credit: USA Today Sports

On Tuesday, July 31st, glad in sparkly red leotards, the five American women entered the London gymnastics arena determined to make history. They had won the team final at the 2011 World Championships, but the 2008 and 2004 teams were also defending world champions—and they fell short of the gold medal. 


But success seemed assured from the very first rotation, vault. Showing no signs of lingering disappointment from her all-around exclusion, Wieber was the first competitor and set the tone with a nearly-stuck Amanar vault. Leading the way with cheers and hugs for her teammates, along with big scores on uneven bars and floor, Wieber proved she was still a champion competitor.

Jordyn Wieber vault

Jordyn Wieber lands her vault with a smile to begin the women's team final at the 2012 London Olympics. Credit: USA Today Sports

One of the most unforgettable moments of the entire 2012 London Olympic Games came just minutes into the team competition. After two excellent vaults from Wieber and Douglas—scoring nearly 16 points each out of a 16.5 possible score—McKayla Maroney stepped onto the mat. An injury in her toe would prevent her from competing on any other events, so Maroney knew this vault was her one chance to contribute to her team’s run at a gold medal. Sprinting at top speed towards the vaulting table, Maroney did a round-off onto the spring board, a back handspring onto the table, and two and a half twists while flipping through the air. And then she stuck it cold.

Her teammates and coaches exploded in cheers while the judges were left open-mouthed. Raisman started chanting “16.5!” and commentator Tim Daggett agreed: it should be a perfect score. The judges somehow found a few deductions and awarded her a score of 16.233, the only 16-plus score of the night. 

McKayla Maroney is hugged by teammates after vault

McKayla Maroney is hugged by her teammates after her vault in the team final. Credit: USA Today Sports


Gabby Douglas earned the nickname the “Flying Squirrel” for her huge release moves on uneven bars. Soaring high over the high bar, down to the low and back again, Douglas made her gravity-defying routine seem effortless. Her score of 15.2 was the highest of the Americans on uneven bars, and helped the U.S. keep pace with the rival Russian team, whose athletes excel on the bars. 

Gabby Douglas on uneven bars at 2012 London Olympics

Credit: USA Today Sports


The youngest member of the Fierce Five at just 15 years old, Kyla Ross had competed at just a handful of international competitions. But Ross showed her trademark composure during her elegant, fluid balance beam routine. She contributed a 15.133 score to help the eventual champions enter the final rotation, floor, with a lead of 1.299 points over Russia. 

Kyla Ross on balance beam

Credit: IOC


After two clean floor routines from Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman performed the final routine for the American women. Their lead over Russia was so large that they were all but assured gold, but the team took nothing for granted. Performing to Hava Nagilia, a nod to her Jewish heritage, Raisman opened with a 1.5 twisting flip right into a double Arabian, two flips with a half twist. She didn’t slow down for a moment, ending with a double flip in the piked position. With tears of joy already in her eyes, Raisman struck the final pose, saluted the judges, and went straight into a giant group hug with her teammates and coaches. 

Aly Raisman

Credit: USA Today Sports

Aly Raisman and Gabby douglas

Credit: USA Today Sports

Raisman needed to score only 10.234 points to secure first place for the U.S., but the team still anxiously waited for Raisman’s score to be announced and confirm their win. Holding hands and holding their breath, they waited, and waited… and then Raisman’s score of 15.300 flashed on the scoreboard. Winning gold by over 5 points, the Fierce Five hugged, cried, waved and chanted “Go USA!” as the arena cheered. 

Fierce Five realize they won gold

The Fierce Five at the moment they realized they won team gold at the 2012 London Olympics Credit: USA Today Sports

Fierce Five cheer

Fierce Five cheer "USA!" after winning gold. Credit: USA Today Sports

Medal ceremony

For the first time since the Magnificent Seven in 1996, the American gymnasts stood on the top of the podium. The Romanian team accepted their bronze medals, then the Russians their silver. And then the golden girls of London claimed their prize. 

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August 2: The all-around final


As a young gymnast in Virginia Beach, Gabby Douglas was struggling to reach the next level of the sport when she became captivated by Shawn Johnson’s smiling, supportive coach on the sidelines of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Douglas convinced her family to allow her to live with a host family in Iowa so she could train at Liang Chow’s gym. The 16-year-old made all her and her family's sacrifices worth it with the most coveted piece of metal in gymnastics. Douglas won all-around gold over Viktoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina of Russia. She was the first African-American woman to win all-around gold, and the first U.S. gymnast to win both team and all-around gold. 


August 5: The vault event final


There are gold medal favorites and then there is McKayla Maroney in the 2012 Olympic vault final. The 2011 world champion on the event, Maroney already delivered several jaw-dropping vaults in the first few nights of competition. Her first vault in the event final was the two-and-a-half twisting Amanar, the same one she stuck in the team final. She landed it with no problem, but her second, easier vault didn’t go as smoothly. As she hit the mat her feet slid out from under her and she landed on her rear—a full point deduction. Maroney ended up with silver, and maintained a stone-faced expression for all but a few seconds. When the Romanian anthem started playing during the medal ceremony, Maroney pursed her mouth to the side and an Internet phenomenon was born.

A tumblr named “McKayla is Not Impressed” was created and quickly filled with Photoshopped images of McKayla looking unimpressed with everything from pregnant Beyonce to the Sistine Chapel. The meme went viral and Maroney fully embraced the joke, doing “the Face” multiple times during the Fierce Five’s post-Olympic media tour. When the gymnasts visited the White House in November 2012, President Obama asked Maroney to pose with him doing the now-iconic face. 

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August 7: The beam and floor event finals


While Douglas soared to first place in the all-around final, Aly Raisman fought for third—but lost the tiebreaker after earning the same final score as Mustafina. She let her disappointment fuel her to two medals in the beam and floor finals. On beam she originally finished in fourth place, but after her coach appealed the score and successfully argued that her difficulty score wasn’t calculated correctly, her score was high enough to tie for third with Romania’s Catalina Ponor. This time Raisman won the tiebreaker and was awarded the bronze.

Aly Raisman win balance beam bronze at the 2012 London Olympics

Aly Raisman with balance beam bronze medal. Credit: USA Today Sports

On floor, her signature event, Raisman added an extra front laid out flip to her first tumbling pass—a risky element that had been giving her trouble in previous days, so she didn't attempt it in the team final. Perfectly executed, Raisman went on to complete a nearly flawless routine to earn the high score and a gold medal. With two golds and a bronze, Raisman was the most decorated U.S. gymnast in London. She was also the first American woman to be Olympic champion on floor. 

Aly Raisman performs on floor at the 2012 London Olympics

Aly Raisman performs on floor at the 2012 London Olympics. Credit: USA Today Sports

Aly Raisman and coach Mihai Brestyan

Aly Raisman gives her coach Mihai Brestyan a hug after she won floor gold at the 2012 London Olympics. Credit: USA Today Sports


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