Who is... Madison Kocian
With her high-scoring uneven bars routine, Madison Kocian has helped the U.S. women to team titles at the last two world championships. In 2015, she even claimed a gold medal for herself—although she had to share it with three other gymnasts. Learn more about the 19-year-old who makes uneven bars look easy.
Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Madison Kocian was just a baby when she showed she had the makings of a great gymnast. Both strong and fearless, Kocian wouldn’t stop climbing out of her crib until her mom decided to harness her energy by putting her in gymnastics classes.
Kocian said her first memory of gymnastics is having her fifth birthday party at a local gym. She took to the uneven bars, which is now her best event, from the beginning.
"I loved hanging on bars and using my strength to do pullovers when I was young."
She started training at the World Olympics Gymnastics Academy (WOGA), a Dallas gym that’s produced two of the four U.S. female gymnasts to win Olympic all-around golds: Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin. WOGA is owned by Nastia’s father and coach, Valeri Liukin, who was an Olympic gymnast in his own right when he lived in the Soviet Union.
She watched as Patterson and then Liukin went from training right beside her in the gym to winning Olympic medals on the world stage.
“Growing up at WOGA, Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin inspired me to be just like them one day,” she said. Liukin is both her biggest role model and like a big sister to her, Kocian said.
"I watched her training before the Olympics in 2008, and she worked hard every day. It was the coolest thing when she would talk to me or give me advice. She was amazing on bars, and I always loved bars and wanted to have the same success as her. Now, she texts me if I'm having a rough time or just to check in on me."
Kocian’s career has been marked by injuries, but she has a knack for bouncing back better than ever. In 2012, she broke the growth plate of the radius in her wrist and had to avoid doing any gymnastics on her hands for three months.
“Even though it healed correctly, about a year and a half later it started causing me pain again,” Kocian said. “I found out that because I had broken the growth plate of the radius, it stopped growing. My ulnar bone (which is the bone on the pinky side), was 3mm longer than radius. My only option was surgery.
“This was in the beginning of 2014 and I had a big decision to make. The surgery would put me out for about 5 months, which would most likely cause me to miss the season. I had a goal in my mind to make the 2014 World Championships Team and win the team gold [medal] for USA, so I decided with my parents and coaches to delay the surgery.”
It paid off, as Kocian made the Worlds squad and won gold with the U.S. women, establishing herself as a gymnast to watch as the Rio Olympics got closer. By performing well at her first worlds, Kocian both gained crucial international experience and proved she can handle the pressure of a high-stakes competition.
After Worlds, she had “a big surgery that required the surgeon to cut out some of my bone, put a plate and seven screws,” she said.
She had to take another five months off from doing gymnastics on her hands—not ideal for a gymnast who excels on the uneven bars.
A silver medalist on uneven bars at the 2014 P&G Championships, Kocian was even better in 2015. She won the national championship title on bars and was named to her second Worlds team.
At the 2015 World Championships in Glasgow, Kocian again helped the U.S. women win gold in the team competition. She also qualified individually for the uneven bars final, where she earned a score of 15.366. No one earned a higher score—but three other gymnasts earned scores of 15.366 as well. All four gymnasts—Kocian, China’s Fan Yilin, Russia’s Viktoria Komova and Daria Spiridonova—received gold medals and were declared co-champions.
Olympic Trials Highlights
With three world championship golds on her resume, Kocian was considered a frontrunner for the 2016 Olympic team. But about six months before the Rio Olympics, Kocian fractured her tibia bone. It was six weeks before she was able to walk normally again.
Kocian needed to prove that she was still the country’s best on uneven bars and that she could contribute on other events. At the Olympic Trials, she earned the highest bars score of the competition and placed eighth in the all-around with strong performances elsewhere.
“Dreams don’t work, unless you do” – Madison Kocian's motto
Kocian will make her Olympic debut in Rio.
Outside the Gym
Kocian isn’t shy about her love for her hometown’s baseball team.
“I'm a HUGE Texas Rangers fan and it's always been my dream to take my Dad on the field and throw out the first pitch,” she said. Her favorites are Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels and Prince Fielder.
Kocian graduated from high school in 2015 and decided to defer college for a year while she trains for the Olympics. She’s committed to attend UCLA in 2016 and has decided to preserve her NCAA eligibility so she can compete in NCAA gymnastics.
After she graduates, she said, “I would like to work with kids in any way. I love kids!”
For now, she enjoys spending time with her family, mother Cindy, father Thomas and younger brother Ty, and relaxes by cooking new recipes for family dinner.
When she travels, she tries to visit local churches. “Faith is a big part of my life, and I love seeing the unique architecture and decoration,” she said.
How to watch
You can watch Madison Kocian starting Thursday, August 4th at 4:30 p.m. ET as the U.S. women’s gymnastics team begin podium training, a non-judged session to practice their routines before the competition begins.
Kocian's Olympics will officially begin on Sunday, August 7th at 4:30 p.m. ET in subdivision four of the women’s qualification session. The scores Kocian earns here will count towards qualifying for the uneven bars final, as well as to the team final (along with the other U.S. women).
The team final will take place on Tuesday, August 9th at 3 p.m. ET. Kocian and her teammates will face off against teams from Russia, China, Great Britain and more in hopes of defending the team gold won by the Fierce Five in 2012.
If Kocian qualifies for the uneven bars finals, she will compete for an individual gold on Sunday, August 14th at 1 p.m. ET.