Top gymnastics stories to watch in Rio
Simone Biles could win a record five golds
She already has 14 world championship medals, 10 of which are gold—more than any female gymnast in world championships history—and she’s heavily favored to win the all-around title and team gold with the U.S. women at the Rio Olympics. Plus, she competes some of the most difficult skills in gymnastics, including her own eponymous skill, the Biles: two back flips in the laid-out body position with a half twist right before the landing.
Should be more than enough for Biles to cement her reputation as the greatest female gymnast ever, right? Not when there are four more Olympic medals up for grabs (one for each apparatus) and Biles could conceivably win three of them. Biles is the reigning world champion on beam and floor, and with a new high-difficulty vault in her arsenal, she’s a strong contender there, too. If she wins five total gold medals in her Olympic debut, Biles will make gymnastics history.
Can Kohei Uchimura lead his team past China and defend his all-around title?
Japan’s Uchimura has dominated the all-around in men’s gymnastics for nearly a decade, cruising to six straight world championship titles, an Olympic silver in 2008 and Olympic gold in 2012. But the Japanese men as a whole haven’t been quite as successful: after winning team gold at the 2004 Olympics, they were beaten by their biggest rivals, the Chinese team, seven straight times (at two Olympics and five world championships). Uchimura has often said that he values team gold over all-around victory because he shares the victory with his teammates, and he was visibly emotional when the Japanese men finally bested China at the 2015 World Championships. While he’s favored for a second all-around Olympic gold in Rio, it’s the team title that Uchimura wants above all.
Great Britain can now count themselves among the top teams
Britain’s male gymnasts hadn’t won a team medal in 100 years when they claimed bronze in front of a home crowd at the 2012 Olympics, and they proved it wasn’t a fluke when they won team silver at the 2015 World Championships. On the 2016 Olympic team is pommel horse ace Louis Smith, making his third Olympic appearance, 2014 world all-around silver medalist Max Whitlock, and 19-year-old Brinn Bevan making his Olympic debut less than a year after he broke his leg in two places.
On the women’s side, the Downie sisters—24-year-old Becky and 17-year-old Ellie—led the 2015 squad to their first ever world championships team medal in 2015, and both made the Rio squad. If they win a team medal at the Olympics, it’ll be the first for British women since women’s gymnastics made its Olympic debut in 1928.
Older gymnasts prove that the sport is not exclulsively for kids
It’s been a cliché for decades that elite gymnasts are barely into their teens, let alone old enough to drink. But with a field that includes multiple gymnasts over the age of 30 and even Oksana Chusovitina, competing in her seventh Olympics at age 41, Rio might finally bust that gymnasts-have-no-longevity myth.
Chusovitina made her Olympic debut at the 1992 Olympic, and won a vault on bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games. Two of Romania’s gymnasts also have Olympic resumes dating back over a decade: 28-year-old Catalina Ponor won three golds in 2004, while 35-year-old Marian Dragulescu won a silver and two bronzes in Athens. Brazil’s Daniele Hypolito will be competing in her fifth Olympics at age 31, and North Korea’s Hong Un-Jong is favored to win a medal on vault at age 27.
U.S. men are looking for redemption after London’s fifth place finish
While the U.S. women are so favored for team gold in Rio that they already need a Fierce Five-esque nickname, the U.S. men will be fighting for a spot on the medal stand. They’ve proven that they’re capable: they won bronze at the 2011 and 2014 World Championships as well as the 2008 Olympics. And at the 2012 Olympics, they looked poised for gold when they earned the top qualifying score in the preliminary round. But in the team final, mistakes across the board left them in fifth place. They finished fifth again at the 2015 World Championships. For Rio, the Olympic selection committee tried to assemble a team of gymnasts with complementary strengths and weaknesses, so in the team final—where three gymnasts compete on each apparatus and all three scores count—they can put up respectable number on every event. But consistency is just as important—the U.S. men likely won’t have a points cushion over their competitors to absorb a fall or two.