Laurie Hernandez wins silver on balance beam after Simone Biles falters

Laurie Hernandez wins silver on balance beam after Simone Biles falters

16-year-old steps up for individual medal

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Laurie Hernandez, 16, shows her grace and poise on the beam to win the silver medal in Rio.
Photo: Agence France-Presse

From the moment Simone Biles first stepped onto the floor 10 days ago at Rio Olympic Arena, she has been competing against herself. Such was the gulf between Biles’s skills and the rest of the gymnastics world that she graded herself in relation to her potential, happily leaving scoring to the judges.

Yesterday, after a strong, stylish start to her balance-beam routine, Biles, a two-time world medalist on the apparatus, didn’t get quite enough height on a front somersault. She under-rotated, as a result, hit one foot on the four-inch wide plank, wobbled precariously and managed to stay on by grabbing the beam with both hands to steady herself.

"Wow, Simone!" she thought to herself. "That was five-10ths" of a point-deduction. She quickly settled herself and completed the routine, earning a score (14.733) nearly a full point lower than her qualifying mark (15.633).

No tearful outburst followed. She hugged her coach, took a seat and proceeded to cheer on her US teammate and Rio roommate, 16-year-old Laurie Hernandez, the sixth beam competitor in the field of eight.

Lauri hugs her coach Maggie Haney.
Photo: Los Angeles Times

Just one year out of gymnastics' junior ranks, Hernandez sped through her difficult tumbling moves and connecting leaps and spins with a veteran's poise.

She was more solid than Biles - and better than all but Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands, who won gold (15.466). Hernandez (15.333) claimed silver.

And Biles, who hadn't even bothered to change into the long pants gymnasts wear to ascend the medal podium, so sure her marks didn't deserve a medal, took bronze.

With it, Biles kept her Olympic medal-streak intact: four events, four medals. But it spoiled gymnastics' most publicised pre-Olympic storyline: that the 19-year-old phenom from Spring, Texas, would leave Rio with five golds.

Asked if she were disappointed that the much publicised "Drive for Five" had fallen short, Biles said, "Not necessarily." Then she put the horde of journalists who crowded around her, tape recorders and microphones outstretched, in its place.

"It’s something you guys shove into my head," Biles said with a smile, "and at 19, I can't put that much stress on myself because I am only 19. I think you guys want it more than I do, because I just want to perform the routines that I practice."


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Standing beside her was Hernandez, as sparkly as her red leotard, recalling with a laugh that she'd tweeted 12 months earlier that the Rio Olympics were "one year away!" and posted a video to illustrate her excitement.

No one, Hernandez included, imagined she'd be part of it - a member of the 2016 US Olympic gymnastics team, leaving Rio with a team gold medal in one pocket and an individual silver medal on balance beam in the other. Hernandez was still competing in the junior ranks in summer 2015, although she was a shining light in her peer group, with potential that caught everyone's eye.

Hernandez progressed quickly once promoted to the senior ranks, wowing US national team coordinator Martha Karolyi with a third-place finish at nationals this summer and claiming silver at US. Olympic trials in July.

In yesterday's beam final, Hernandez was the sixth of eight gymnasts to compete.

The awful moment Simone Biles stumbles on the beam.
Photo: Tribune News Service

"You got this! Just stay calm," Biles whispered in her ear.

And with a wide smile to the judges, Hernandez hopped on the beam.

"Nice! Nice!" Karolyi cawed from the stands.

Shouts of "Yeah!" "You got it!" rained down from her family and friends on the US men’s and women's gymnastics teams.

"I think this is one of the best routines that I've showed in Rio," Hernandez said afterwards. "I’m just happy I could perform the way I do in practice and stay calm through the whole thing."

Biles had an off-day, at least by her elevated standards.

"She is human," said Aimee Boorman, Biles's coach since she was seven. To Boorman’s eyes, Biles's "save" on the somersault was a heroic feat and her performance, a triumph.

"She won a bronze medal on beam at the Olympics," Boorman said. "That’s huge, and she should be proud of that."

 

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