How Rio rewrote the gymnastics history books

First ever, most ever, best ever. In the process of representing their countries on the world stage, the athletes at the Rio Olympics made their own gymnastics history.

Simone Biles

The star of the U.S. women’s gymnastics squad led the Final Five to team gold, then claimed four more individual medals: all-around, vault, and floor golds, plus bronze on the balance beam. Biles is the first U.S. gymnast, male or female, to win four gold medals. Her teammates Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas are right behind her with three gold medals each.

Including Biles, only five female gymnasts have won four gold medals at a single Olympics:

  1. Hungary’s Agnes Keleti at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics
  2. The Soviet Union’s Larisa Latynina at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics
  3. Czechoslovakia’s Vera Caslavska at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics
  4. Romania’s Ecaterina Szabo at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics
  5. United States’ Simone Biles at the 2016 Rio Olympics

Biles is the fifth U.S. female gymnast to be the all-around Olympic champion, and the second (after Douglas) to win both the team and all-around golds. She’s the first U.S. female gymnast to win the all-around title at both the world championships and Olympics.

She won all-around gold in Rio by 2.1 points, which is more than the margins of victory from 1980 to 2012 combined.

Before Biles, no U.S. female gymnast had ever won gold on the vault.

She’s also the first female gymnast to be chosen as the U.S.’ flag bearer in an Opening or Closing Ceremony.

The Final Five

In addition to the team gold and Biles’ four individual medals, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team won four silver medals: Raisman in the all-around and on floor, Madison Kocian on the uneven bars and Laurie Hernandez on the balance beam.

With a total of 9 medals (4 golds, 4 silvers and 1 bronze), they beat the previous record of most medals won in a single Games by a U.S. women’s gymnastics team. The 1984 and 2008 Olympic teams each won 8 medals.

It was also the most gold medals won by the U.S. women in a single Olympics, beating the previous record of 3 golds from the Fierce Five team at the London Olympics

Other records:

  • First time the U.S. women have won gold and silver in the floor exercise final at the same Olympics (Biles and Raisman)
  • Second time the U.S. women have won gold and silver in the all-around final (Biles and Raisman in 2016, Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson in 2008)
  • Aly Raisman is the first U.S. gymnast to win two consecutive medals in the floor final (gold in 2012, silver in 2016)
  • Second time that the U.S. gymnasts claimed two medals on the balance beam (Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin in 2008, Biles and Hernandez in 2016)

With six Olympic medals, Raisman sits behind just Shannon Miller for most career Olympic medals won by a U.S. gymnast:

  1. Shannon Miller (7)
  2. Aly Raisman (6)
  3. Nastia Liukin, Mary Lou Retton, Simone Biles (5)

Douglas was the first U.S. female gymnast ever to win the all-around title and return for another Olympics, and the first female Olympic all-around champion from any country to make a second Olympic appearance since Nadia Comaneci, the 1976 all-around champion, competed at the 1980 Olympics.

The team’s nickname was also a reference to the end of an era for the U.S. women’s gymnastics program. Martha Karolyi, the legendary coach who has been the national team coordinator since 2001, is retiring in 2016, making the Rio team her “final five.” 

They also sent Karolyi off with the largest ever margin of victory in an Olympic team final since the new scoring system was implemented in 2006: 8.209 points, easily beating the previous record of 5.066 points (set in 2012).

U.S. men’s gymnastics team

The U.S. men picked up three individual medals in Rio; added to the women’s nine medals, the U.S. gymnasts’ 12-medal total is the most since 1984 (when the U.S. team won 16 medals at the Los Angeles Olympics).

Rio was the first Olympics in 12 years where the U.S. men won at least three medals. It was also only the fifth time that the U.S. men’s team won three or more medals at a single Olympics: 2016, 2004, 1984, 1932 and 1904.

Alex Naddour was the first U.S. male gymnast to win an Olympic medal in Rio. His bronze was the first pommel horse medal for a U.S. man since 1984, when Peter Vidmar tied for gold and Tim Daggett won bronze.

Danell Leyva won silver medals on the horizontal bar and parallel bars. Before Leyva, a U.S. male gymnast hadn’t won two individual event final medals since Mitch Gaylor in 1984. Leyva is just the seventh U.S. man ever to win an Olympic medal on the parallel bars.

He also joins a small group of U.S. male gymnasts who’ve won three or more Olympic medals (Leyva won an all-around bronze at the London Olympics):

  1. Anton Heida: 6 medals at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics
  2. George Eyser: 6 medals at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics
  3. William Merz: 4 medals at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics 
  4. Emil Voigt: 3 medals at the 1904 St. Louis Games
  5. Mitch Gaylord: 4 medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics
  6. Peter Vidmar: 3 medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics
  7. Paul Hamm: 3 medals at the 2004 Athens Olympics
  8. Danell Leyva: 3 medals at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympics

Foreign gymnasts

Japan’s Kohei Uchimura earned his sixth and seventh Olympic medals, both gold, in Rio. He led the Japanese men to their first team gold since 2004. Then Uchimura became the first male gymnast since Sawao Kato in 1972 to win back-to-back Olympic all-around titles, and just the fourth man ever to win two all-around golds. Italy’s Alberto Braglia and the Soviet Union’s Viktor Chukarin was the other two male gymnasts to accomplish to be repeat champions.

Uchimura also tied Kato for a total of three all-around Olympic medals.   

While Japan finished first in the men’s team competition, China finished third on both the men’s and women’s side. For the first time since 1984, Chinese gymnasts did not earn any individual medals. It was also a lackluster games for Romania, whose gymnasts didn’t earn any Olympic medals for the first time since 1972. 

But many more countries proved ascendant in Rio. The British men and women won six medals: