Fans wanted “GLAMSquad,” Simone Biles’ coach suggested “Slay Squad,” and fans voted for “Phenomenal Five”
But it was up to the athletes themselves to decide what name they wanted to be written in the Olympic history books. First there was the Magnificent Seven. Then the Fierce Five. And now, the Final Five.
Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian and members of 2012’s team Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas teased fans after they arrived in Rio that they’d chosen a nickname, but said they wouldn’t reveal it until after the team final.
Seemed appropriate, as the Atlanta and London teams didn’t get their names until after they won team gold.
The Magnificent Seven was coined by an agent, Dominique Dawes remembers. Dawes, Shannon Miller, Kerri Strug, Dominique Moceanu, Amanda Borden, Amy Chow and Jaycie Phelps, the first U.S. women to win gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, didn’t get a say.
In London, Raisman, Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross were originally named Fab Five, but they changed it because the name had previously been used for the University of Michigan’s 1991 men’s basketball team.
“I think we were all really just fierce and determined,” Douglas said. “And actually McKayla came up with that name the Fierce Five. I don’t know who said the Fab Five. We were like, let’s call ourselves the Fab Five, but then some baseball team had it or something, so that was out. Then Mykayla was like, ‘Fierce! Let’s be the Fierce Five!’ And we’re just like, ‘Okay, yeah, that works.'”
So this squad took control early, and came up with a name with a lot of significance.
When the athletes received their winning score at the end of the team final, they leapt up onto the floor podium and huddled up. With team captain Raisman leading, they cheered, “We are the Final Five!”
Many assumed that the name was a reference to the change in gymnastics team size that will take place at the Tokyo Olympics. In 2020, a country will be able to field a team of just 4 gymnasts in the final, although they’ll also be able to bring a maximum of two individual gymnasts who don’t compete with the team. Thus, this will be the last Olympic gymnastics team to be made of five members.
But they soon revealed that the meaning was a lot more personal. The nickname referred to the imminent retirement of Martha Karolyi, the legendary Romanian coach who has been the national team coordinator of the U.S. women’s gymnastics program for the last 15 years.
She was the one who invited Biles to a one-on-one training camp after Biles flamed out at one of her first senior competitions in 2013, and a few weeks later Biles won her first of four national titles. She helped Biles and Hernandez’s coaches, who had never worked with gymnasts at the top level before, grow along with their gymnasts so Biles and Hernandez wouldn’t have to look elsewhere for a more experienced coach.
When Raisman was losing her confidence after a sub-par performance at the 2015 World Championships, Karolyi’s encouragement helped her recover it. And when Douglas struggled at the Olympic Trials, falling off the beam twice, Karolyi picked her for the team trusting that Douglas would be Olympic-ready when it counts.
“She’s pushed us harder than anyone else, harder than our coaches,” said Biles. “Every day in practice, even if you’re so close to perfection, she still tells you that you can be better… She does it because she loves us. She just wants the best for us.”