How the Fierce Five won the London Olympics
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.