Who is... Laurie Hernandez
Lauren Hernandez was born on June 9, 2000 in New Brunswick, NJ. Her parents put their 5-year-old daughter in dance and ballet classes, but it wasn’t holding her attention—her parents had to bribe her with sugar cookies to make her go to class. On day, a more exhilarating sport caught her eye.
"My earliest memory was watching gymnastics on live TV, and wanting to do what the 'big girls' did," Hernandez said. "I started a gymnastics class at five years old, but it became serious at seven."
Hernandez began taking recreational classes, and also gained the nickname Laurie because there were other Laurens at her gym. Soon she was spotted by Maggie Haney, who has now been her coach for nearly 10 years. Haney hadn’t coached an elite gymnast before, but the two learned and grew together as a team.
When Hernandez was nine, Haney started looking into getting her promising young gymnast into USA Gymnastics’ national development camps. She could attend if she had a high enough score in the Talent Opportunity program (TOPs), which measures basic gymnastics skills and physical aptitude. According to ESPNW, when Haney’s contact at USA Gymnastics looked up Hernandez’s TOPs score, she said, "Oh, she's the No. 1 TOPs kid in the country. She can come."
Hernandez rose quickly through the ranks of junior gymnastics—in 2012 she finished 21st in the all-around at the national championships, and in 2013 13-year-old Hernandez finished second and won event medals on uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise.
But then she was hit by injury, first fracturing her wrist early in 2014 and then dislocating her right kneecap, tearing her patella ligament and bruising her MCL all on one bad vault landing that same year. The knee injuries required surgery and a piece of a cadaver’s ligament was attached to her own.
She didn’t compete at all in 2014 as she worked her way back to full strength. She had no trouble making up for lost time in 2015: she went undefeated in the all-around over all four of the competitions, two domestic and two international, she entered that year. At the national championships, she not only claimed the all-around gold but won medals on all four events: gold on uneven bars, silver on floor exercise, and bronzes on vault and balance beam.
Still just 15 years old, Hernandez burst into the conversation surrounding possible Olympic teams. Luckily, she became age-eligible to compete in the Rio Games when she turned 16 in 2016.
Hernandez made her senior debut at the 2016 City of Jesolo Trophy, a friendly international competition in Italy. She fit right in with the older, more experienced gymnasts, helping the U.S. women to team gold and winning beam gold, vault silver and all-around bronze.
Hernandez put in a more than solid performance at her next competition, the Pacific Rim Championships. Three-time world champion Simone Biles won the all-around, with 2012 Olympic floor champion Aly Raisman finishing second—and then just 0.100 points behind Raisman was Hernandez.
Hernandez then had to hit pause on her training to treat another knee injury, and she only competed on two events at the Secret U.S. Classic. After using Classics as a tune-up meet, Hernandez showed her strongest gymnastics yet at the 2016 P&G Championships. She again finished just behind Biles and Raisman to claim all-around bronze, and finished third on three events.
Hernandez will make her Olympic debut in Rio.
If Hernandez is selected for the team, she’ll be the first U.S.-born Hispanic athlete to make the U.S. women’s gymnastics Olympic team since Tracee Talavera at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Hernandez’s grandparents are from Puerto Rico.
She also could be one of the youngest athletes on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team. She is just 10 days older than the current youngest Olympian named to the team, table tennis player Kanak Jha.
Hernandez competes with no shortage of expressiveness and personality, especially on the floor exercise. International Gymnast Magazine called Hernandez the “Human emoji” and gymnastics podcast Gymcastic nicknamed her “baby Shakira.” With her early dance training and inimitable style, Hernandez always puts on a show when she performs.
After her gymnastics career ends, Hernandez says she’d love to keep performing—but as an actress.