As McKayla and Kyla Say Goodbye, A Look Back at the Legacy of the Fierce Five
February 2016 has been a bittersweet month for gymnastics fans. While looking forward more and more every day to the upcoming Olympic trials that will decide just which of the many talented male and female US gymnasts will be heading to Rio in August to represent their country, we also had to say farewell – or at least goodbye for now – to two more of the members of the Fierce Five; Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney.
The Fierce Five is Down to Two
Both young ladies announced their official retirement from competitive gymnastics within days of one another. Kyla, who it had been thought might have a shot at making the 2016 Olympic team, has decided to focus on her studies at UCLA instead. McKayla, having battled with illness and injury since she last competed in 2013, says she has decided to let go of the dream she admits she had of competing in the Olympics again and focus on her music career and a possible coaching involvement somewhere down the line. And with Jordyn Wieber having retired last year to focus on her college career (also at UCLA) only Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman are left to carry on the Fierce Five’s legacy. With all of this, we thought it was as good a time as any to reflect on just what the Fierce Five meant to US gymnastics. Some young gymnasts and gym fans may not even remember the 2012 Olympics in London very clearly and while they might know Gaby, Aly, Jordyn, McKayla and Kyla’s names they might not know just why they do.
The Fab Five, The Fierce Five and the Legacy of 2012
When the 2012 Olympic trials were over and the team chosen to represent the US in London was announced as Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross, and Jordyn Wieber it was a group of longtime close friends that began preparing to take the world by storm and not just competitors turned teammates. This is of course not unusual in high-level youth sports, as usually the best athletes find themselves encountering one another over and over again at competitions and while they may be opponents on the floor the rivalries rarely spill over beyond there. As good as it was acknowledged the US team were they were not particular favorites and it was considered that they would be facing competition that may prove too tough. They even had to change their team nickname in the face of media pressure. Originally the ‘Fab Five’ they made the switch to ‘Fierce Five’ just before the Games after former Michigan basketball Fab Five member and TV analyst Jalen Rose brought the issue up on an ESPN show. Once the competition began though, it was obvious that Fierce Five was the better moniker. Maroney, Douglas, and Wieber started off the team competition by performing the three highest-scoring vaults, giving the U.S. a lead that they would never surrender and the gymnastics mastery continued from there until the Fierce Five were declared gold medal winners over the Russians by an unheard of points margin; 5.066 points higher with a final tally of 183.596. But it was not just their technical performances that changed the face of US gymnastics forever. The girls appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and in doing so they became the first gymnasts to have that honor since 1996. McKayla Maroney (with her out of character sulky face) became a global meme. The team opened the Stock Exchange on Wall Street, appeared at the MTV Music Awards, threw out all kinds of first pitches at baseball games, visited the White House and did the whole chat show circuit at least twice. The Fierce Five became the idols of girls everywhere, from tweens and teens to toddlers. There are whole classes of girls in gyms all over the country who took up the sport, initially at least, because of the Fierce Five. In becoming true superstars, the team helped gymnastics gain a whole new high profile and the fact that this time around the sports media is taking the sport far more seriously, and for that, as well as all of their stunning performances, we have the Fierce Five to thank.
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