Your 2016 Olympic Gymnastics Cheat Sheet

Your 2016 Olympic Gymnastics Cheat Sheet

Photos (clockwise from top left): @oksana2016; @simonebiles; @usagym; @ellemalaysia

Gymnastics has been the must-watch Summer Olympics event, ever since 1996, when the “Magnificent Seven” blazed the trail for a women’s team gold. After all, who can forget Kerri Strug’s epically badass vault? Or the beloved “Fierce Five,” who edged out Russia by more than five points in London in 2012?

Team USA won’t be the only stars of this year’s tumbling show, though. Besides Simone Biles’ jaw-dropping performances, you can expect to marvel at a 40-something competitor (unheard of in a sport where 22-year-olds like Aly Reisman are nicknamed “grandma”). And let’s not discount the first Indian gymnast to attempt to stick a killer vault, or Japan’s top male contender, Kohei Uchimura, vying for a “greatest of all time” title. Here’s what you need to know to watch the high-flying action like a pro.

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Flip Out: 6 Must-Watch Olympic Gymnastics Highlights

1. The Fittest Five
Talk about #SquadGoals. “Our [women’s] team is truly strong in every aspect of the sport — it’s one of the strongest teams we’ve ever had,” says Shawn Johnson, a gold medal gymnast who competed in the 2008 Beijing Games.

Two veteran Olympians will return to the mat: Gabby Douglas (who took home the all-around gold at the 2012 Games, and was the first African-American to do so) and Aly Reisman (team captain who won gold in floor and bronze in balance beam in London).

The other three faces may be new to the Games, but they’re certainly not new to the podium. Simone Biles has earned 10 golds, two silvers and two bronzes at the World Championships from 2013 to 2015. Laurie Hernandez won the all-around title at the U.S. Junior Championships and International Junior Japan Meet, as well as bronze in all-around, uneven bars, balance beam and floor at the 2016 P&G Championships. And Madison Kocian won the gold in uneven bars at the 2015 Worlds.

In addition to their stellar stats, Team USA’s personalities and unique routines just might bring down the house. “The tradition of the sport has always been kind of one style of athlete,” says Johnson. “And now we allow so many different types of girls and styles of gymnasts, which is really cool to see.”

Simone Biles

Photo: @usagym

2. Simone Biles, Girl on Fire
It’s tough to talk about the prowess of this year’s team without giving a special shout-out to Simone Biles, who’s making her Olympic debut at age 19. The powerhouse has already shattered records as the first woman to score three consecutive world championships, and the first woman in more than 40 years to win the national championship four years in a row. If you’re wondering where Biles has been all this time, she was one year shy of being eligible for the 2012 London Olympics. “She’s basically undefeated,” says Johnson. That’s precisely why people dub her as the greastest gymnast of all time.

Ever since the scoring system for gymnastics changed a decade ago, allowing athletes to score more points based on their level of difficulty (that means no more perfect 10’s), competitors have upped the ante on their tricks. And Biles puts all of her cards on the table. Even if she wobbles or falls, she can score higher than someone who nailed a near perfect, but less advanced skill.

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3. Let’s Hear It for the Boys
To say the men’s team is more determined than ever would be an understatement. After all, more than half of them competed in London, where they disappointingly missed the podium. Now, they’re back with a vengeance.

Among them: Sam Mikulak, who won all-around gold at the 2015 Pan American Games. (He’s still striving for his first Olympic medal, though.) Jake Dalton also returns for round two, with his eyes set on floor exercise and vault. Two other team members, Alex Naddour, 25, and Chris Brooks, 29, were at the London Games, but as alternates. They came back stronger than ever to earn spots on the team and now they’ll work toward a place on the leaderboard.

The fifth Team USA member, Danell Leyva, had a rocky start on the road to Rio. The original pick was John Orozco — a gymnast who overcome adversary in 2015 with the sudden death of his mom and a second Achilles injury. During pre-Olympic team camp, Orozco tore his ACL on a dismount from the high bar. Now Leyva, who earned all-around bronze in 2012, has a second chance to earn Olympic medal number two.

4. The 41-Year-Old Flyer
In a sport where 22 is considered “grandma” age, competing at 41 is seriously impressive. Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan, returning for her seventh Olympics, will become the oldest female gymnast in the history of the Games. (Fun fact: She’s also competed for Germany and the Soviet Union.) Look for her to compete in her specialty, vault, which won her a silver in Beijing. “I don’t think she’ll ever retire,” her manager, Michael Fabig said in an interview. Age really is just a number — especially if you’re fit to be an Olympian.

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5. The First Indian Female Gymnast
Add the Olympics to Dipa Karmakar’s list of barriers she’s broken down. In addition to being the first Indian woman to compete at the Games, the 22-year-old was also the first to win a Commonwealth Games medal (she scored bronze in the vault), and the first to compete in the finals of the World Championships just last year. Karmakar will aim to execute one of the toughest vaults in gymnastics: The Produnova, named after a Russian gymnast. Only five other athletes have done it. Also known frighteningly as “the vault of death,” it involves rebounding off the apparatus and doing two full front somersaults, before landing on your feet. The reason it’s so dangerous? It’s so easy not to complete the second rotation and land with full bodyweight on your neck. We’ll be watching with clenched fists.

6. A Male Equivalent to the GOAT
We told you Simone Biles might be the greatest gymnast of all time. Well, on the men’s side, Japan’s Kohei Uchimura is making moves toward that title, too. The 27-year-old won all-around silver at the 2008 Games, but he’s dominated first-place ever since, winning all-around gold in London and six World Championship titles. Experts predict he could take home some coveted hardware in Rio, including the all-around win for a second time. (While Biles doesn’t have quite as many medals handing in her room, she has a few years to catch up.) It’ll be a shocker if these two don’t take the top spots.

The 2016 Olympic Gymnastics events will run from Saturday, August 6 to Tuesday, August 16. Watch live on NBC, at NBCOlympics.com or via the NBC Sports app.  

Wondering what other Olympic events you can’t miss? Check out the 6 reasons you need to watch track and field.

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