Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman lived up to every expectation that had been placed on them at the 2016 Olympics in Rio and more. They came home with nine medals between them, including the team gold and have officially gone down in the record books as the most successful US Women’s Gymnastics team in Olympic history.
Yet when the media pushed the team to name themselves, as their predecessors had, the name they eventually chose seemed rather mundane. Although fans had lobbied for ‘The GLAM Squad’ and Simone Biles’ parents suggested ‘The Slay Squad’, the girls arrived in Rio admitting they did have a name, but they would not reveal it until after the team final was over. Again, just like their predecessors The Magnificent Seven and, more recently The Fierce Five. When they did, it was, as we all know ‘The Final Five’. And the question was, why such a simple name for such an extraordinary team?
Why the Final Five?
Just prior to the Olympics, at a reunion/meet and greet, Dominique Dawes recalled that they did not actually get a say in the naming of their team, it was a PR exec who coined the moniker ‘Magnificent Seven’. The 2012 squad were given the choice and originally chose ‘Fab Five’, but when they were reminded that that name had also been used by the University of Michigan’s 1991 men’s basketball team they renamed themselves ‘The Fierce Five’, a suggestion put forward by the ever feisty (and fierce) McKayla Maroney.
When the 2016 team captain, Aly Raisman, led her team off the medal podium and they began to cheer’ we are the final five’, many fans of the sport assumed the name was a reference to the fact that as of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics countries will only be able to field a team of four, therefore indeed making the ladies of 2016 the final five. But as was later revealed, the team name was a lot more personal than that.
The nickname actually was coined as a tribute to team coordinator Martha Karolyi. The legendary Romanian coach has held that position for fifteen years, but at the age of 74 decided to step down and retire, which she did immediately after the Olympics. Therefore Simone, Aly, Madison, Laurie and Gabby were HER ‘final five’ and the girls wanted to honor her and the impact she has had on all of their careers.
For instance, it was Karolyi who invited Simone Biles to a one-on-one training camp after Biles had a disastrous showing at one of her first senior competitions in 2013, and a few weeks later Biles won her first of four national titles.
She was also the one who insisted that Gabby Douglas be named to the 2016 team despite a less than stellar showing during the Olympic Trials, trusting that she’s be back in top form for Rio (which she was) And when Aly Raisman contemplated retirement after a poor performance in the 2015 World Championships it was Martha who worked with her one on one to restore her confidence.
And for once, the legendarily tough coach admitted she was overcome with emotion; “From my nature, I’m really not a sentimental person, honestly,” Karolyi said told reporters, “I’m known for being really tough, so I felt like, what’s happening to me, really? But I’m very proud and, yes, I cried.”
A fitting ending to a stellar Olympics and a legendary career, don’t you agree?
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