London's Fierce Five: Where are they now?
Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross arrived in London for the 2012 Olympics hyped as the heirs to the Magnificent Seven, the U.S. women's gymnastics team who won team gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Four of them (Ross had been too young at the time) had already won the team title at the 2011 World Championships, and Sports Illustrated had featured the five teenagers on their Olympic preview issue with the headline "America's Game Changers."
They didn't disappoint. In the team final, they won the gold over Russia by more than five points. Douglas won all-around gold, while Maroney took silver in the vault final and Raisman claimed a gold medal on the floor exercise and bronze on the balance beam. All they needed was a worthy nickname.
I think we were all really just fierce and determined.
"Actually, McKayla came up with that name the 'Fierce Five,'" Douglas explained to NBC Olympics. "We were like, let's call ourselves the 'Fab Five,' but then some baseball team had it or something, it was some team, and then we couldn't call ourselves the Fab Five, so that was out. Then McKayla was like, 'Fierce! Let's be the Fierce Five!' And we're just like, 'Okay, yeah, that works.'"
In the months following the London Olympics, the Fierce Five performed nationwide on the Kellogg's Tour of Gymnastics Champions and appeared everywhere from The Colbert Report to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. They all said they'd be back for another run at Olympic glory, despite the long odds. No U.S. female gymnast has made multiple Olympic teams since Dominique Dawes and Amy Chow in 1996 and 2000.
It's been nearly four years since the London Olympics. Find out who's retired, who's shifted focus and who's on track to represent Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
After suffering a stress fracture in her right leg and an Olympic experience that didn't quite live up to expectations--as the 2011 world champion, Wieber hoped to contend for all-around Olympic gold in London but the two-per-country rule kept her out of the final--Wieber never returned to competition. She enrolled in UCLA in the fall of 2013 and found a role with the women's college gymnastics team, but not as a competitor. Since Wieber had turned pro prior to the London Olympics, she wasn't eligible to compete in NCAA gymnastics. Instead, she acted as a student manager for the Bruins and trained independently.
"Basically, I'm a member of the team but I can't compete," Wieber told USA Gymnastics in a November 2013 interview. "I'm there to give them a pep talk, move a mat or whatever they need. I train before the team, so they're coming in as I'm working out. Hopefully, my hard work and dedication can help inspire them."
She said her "ultimate goal" was still returning to elite gymnastics and the 2016 Rio Olympics, but Wieber found herself increasingly attracted to the life of a normal college student. In March 2015 she published an essay on The Player's Tribune titled "A New Routine."
Wieber announced that she would retire from gymnastics, with no regrets and complete gratitude for all the sport has given her. She said that her time at UCLA helped her realize "that I felt fulfilled with what I had accomplished in my gymnastics career, and was ready to move on to the next phase of my life."
Being part of The Fierce Five -- as we became known -- was an amazing experience. We were all so supportive of one another and had such a desire to succeed for our country that gold was the only option. The moments after our performance and seeing our scores were pretty much all a blur. That experience is something we will all share with one another for life.
Wieber will begin her senior year at UCLA a few weeks after the Rio Olympics. She still plays a crucial role on the UCLA women's gymnastics team as a manager, and is working towards a degree in psychology. In March she threw her support behind Los Angeles' bid to host the 2024 Olympics by joining the Athletes' Advisory Committee.
For most of the post-London years, Kyla Ross was considered the Fierce Fiver with the best chance of being selected for the 2016 Rio Olympics. She was the youngest, and returned to regular training the earliest. While her more famous teammates either took time off or were sidelined by injuries, Ross became one of the top U.S. female gymnasts--second only to new star Simone Biles.
Alongside Maroney, Ross competed at the 2013 National and World Championships, taking all-around silver medals at both. The next years, she was the only Fierce Five member at the 2014 Worlds. Ross easily stepped into a leadership role, helping the U.S. women win a team gold and claiming a second all-around medal, this one bronze, for herself.
Now at least three inches taller than she was at the London Olympics, Ross found herself missing her trademark grace and consistency in 2015. She only competed on two events at her first competition of the year, the Secret U.S. Classic, due to a bruised heel. Excited to debut a more difficult uneven bars routine, Ross fell twice and finished 15th in what's typically one of her best events. More falls followed at the 2015 P&G Championships and she placed 10th in the all-around--a far fall from her silver medal performance the year before.
Ross withdrew from selection for the 2015 Worlds team shortly after, still hoping to return to full strength and health the next year. But in early 2016, Ross realized that she no longer had the motivation to train for the Rio Olympics.
I could tell my heart wasn't fully in it... It's always hard to train when you're not completely there and committed. It was a combination of everything.
Unlike her Fierce Five teammates, Ross weighed the benefits of turning professional but choose to preserve her eligibility for collegiate gymnastics. Now, Ross felt, was the right time to turn her focus from a second Olympics to an upcoming career in NCAA gymnastics. Ross will enroll at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2016 and plans to major in biomedical engineering.
Just days after Ross--McKayla Maroney's childhood friend as well as Olympic teammate--announced her retirement, Maroney stated in an interview with gymnastics podcast Gymcastic that she wouldn't be trying for a second Olympics either.
Maroney was one of the most famous Fierce Five members thanks to the meme-worthy face she made after winning a silver medal in the vault final. Losing that gold medal also made her one of the most motivated; she told Inside Gymnastics in 2014 that her first thought after falling on her second vault was, "Well, I guess I'm going to the next Olympics."
She battled through injuries, including a broken toe and fractured shin before the London Olympics and a fractured tibia during the post-Games gymnastics tour, to compete at the 2013 World Championships. She earned her second gold medal on the vault, becoming the first U.S. female gymnast to successfully defend her vault world title.
More injuries, burnout and depression took their toll on Maroney in 2014. When she returned to gymnastics training in 2015 she found it impossible to find the fire she needed to keep going for Rio.
You have to be so passionate and so in love with gymnastics to be able to get to the Olympics. When you start losing even just an ounce of that, I was just like, I'm not going to make it. One day, I was just sitting outside and was like, why am I doing this?
But she stated unequivocally that she'll always have gymnastics in her life. "I don't want anybody to think that McKayla is retiring," Maroney said. "I don't even want people to use that word ... this is something I'm always going to be a part of it. I'm never leaving this sport."
Maroney pursued acting opportunities in 2013, appearing on Bones and Hart of Dixie. She says that now she'll be working towards a music career and has been writing songs and playing instruments. She hopes to cheer the U.S. women on in person at the Rio Olympics.
After winning three medals (team gold, floor gold and balance beam bronze) at the 2012 London Olympics, Raisman took a long hiatus from competition, choosing new opportunities over the grind of daily training. She traveled with the Kellogg's Tour of Gymnastics Champions, finished fourth on the spring 2013 season of Dancing with the Stars, and designed collections of leotards for GK Elite Sportswear.
Raisman was back in the gym in 2014, training under longtime coach Mihai Brestyan. But the three-time Olympic medalist wasn't his star pupil right away.
The first six months that I came back to gymnastics, Mihai would barely coach me. It's almost like he would give the younger ones more attention, so that I would want to work harder.
She eventually proved herself to her coach, and made her return to competition in March 2015 at the City of Jesolo Trophy in Jesolo, Italy. Raisman won all-around bronze in Jesolo as well as at the U.S. P&G Championships. She also won the national floor title, besting Simone Biles (who won her third all-around national title in 2015).
She was named to the squad for the 2015 World Championships, and competed in all four events in the preliminary round. Despite a fall off the uneven bars, Raisman finished fifth in the all-around qualifications--but didn't advance to the final. Biles and Gabby Douglas had finished ahead of her, and only two athletes per country are allowed to compete in a gymnastics final. She called it "one of the worst meets I've ever had in my life."
"I'm just thankful this is not the Olympics," Raisman said in the mixed zone after qualifications. "But this is obviously still extremely important and I hope Martha [Karolyi, the national team coordinator] still wants me for next summer after this." Raisman was able to shake off her disappointment to perform well in the team final, posting two scores over 15 points to help the U.S. women to a gold medal finish.
At the 2016 Jesolo Tropy, Raisman's first competition of the Olympic year, she slipped and fell on her vault landing. Raisman finished sixth in the all-around, but rallied in the floor final to win gold.
Gabby Douglas made history at the 2012 London Olympics, becoming the first African-American gymnast to win all-around Olympic gold and the first gymnast to win both all-around and team gold at the same Olympics.
One of the best moments [of the Olympics], and what really stood out to me is after floor. I hopped down from the podium and my coach was like, "Wave, you're an Olympic champion." And that literally just - wow - I just like, you kind of like melt, because it was just, oooh, that moment was just so extraordinary and I was just waving.
The spotlight didn't fade after London, as Douglas picked up honors such as Top Female Athlete of the Year from the Associated Press and Individual Sportswoman of the Year from the Women's Sports Foundation. She was pictured on a box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes, appeared next to Michelle Obama on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and performed at the VMA's while Alicia Keys sang "Girl on Fire."
Douglas followed a similar path back to competitive gymnastics as Raisman, not competing until the City of Jesolo Trophy in March 2015. But unlike Raisman, who continued with her childhood coach, Douglas struggled to find a stable training home.
In May 2013, she returned to Des Moines, Iowa to train with Liang Chow, who guided Douglas to Olympic gold. She left a few months later to join her family in Los Angeles and train on her own. She was back in Iowa in April 2014, but again moved away before the summer was over. In a 2014 article in ESPNW, her agent Lowell Taub explained, "the business terms under which Chow wanted to work with Gabby moving forward toward Rio were not business terms Gabby felt were in her best interest."
Douglas finally landed at Buckeye Gymnastics in Columbus, Ohio, training under Kittia Carpenter and living with her grandmother. Now 19 years old, Douglas appreciates having a family member to take care of her. "I can't cook, and I hate being alone," Douglas told NBC Olympics. "I would order takeout every night if she wasn't there."
Early in her 2015 season, Douglas didn't yet look like a reigning Olympic champion. At the P&G Gymnastics Championships, Douglas finished fifth in the all-around and didn't claim a single event medal. But with a few more months of consistent training under her belt, a much-improved Douglas dazzled at the 2015 World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. She helped the U.S. women win team gold, and won the all-around silver medal behind Biles. It was the first time since 1981 that the reigning Olympic all-around champion returned to a world championships and won a medal.
Douglas is on a dominant streak in 2016, winning the all-around titles at her first two competitions: the AT&T American Cup and the City of Jesolo Trophy.
Douglas will also join her family for a docu-series on Oxygen titled Douglas Family Gold. The show, premiering on May 25th, will give fans "an inside look at an inspirational family who doesn't let any obstacles stand in their way, and when dreams are on the line 'Team Douglas' comes together and outshines the competition," Rod Aissa, the Executive Vice President of Oxygen's original programming, said.