Born: June 9, 2000
Town: Old Bridge
Lauren Hernandez was born June 9, 2000 in New Brunswick and grew up in Old Bridge. She was one of three kids born to Wanda and Anthony Hernandez, whose parents were Puerto Rican. Laurie began taking dance classes at age 5 and stood out immediately for her combination of grace and energy, but she wasn’t interested in ballet. She was hooked on gymnastics after watching a meet on TV. Her parents enrolled her in a gym and within two years she was working with a dedicated coach, Maggie Haney.
At age 9, Laurie was accepted into one of USA Gymnastics’ development camps. Her TOP score was he highest in the country for gymnasts her age. TOP stands for Talent Opportunity Program, and combines gymnastic and physical skills. In 2012, Laurie moved to the elite level, finishing 11th in the junior division of the US Classic. The senior winner was Aly Raisman and the junior winner was Simone Biles. She also competed in the National Championships that year at age 12.
Laurie’s big breakthrough came in 2013 at the American Classic, when she won the floor exercise and second in the all-around. She repeated as floor champion at the US Classic. She competed in the junior division of the National Championships and won a silver medal in the all-around. By now a member of the junior national squad, Laurie did well in international events, helping Team USA win gold in Mexico.
Laurie’s meteoric rise was stalled for much of 2014 by wrist and knee injuries, but she recovered in time to be named to the US senior squad for 2016. At a March meet in Italy, she won a gold medal on the balance beam, silver in the vault, and a bronze medal in the all-around behind teammates Ragan Smith and Gabby Douglas. In June, at the National Championships, Laurie finished third in the all-around, floor exercise, balance beam and uneven bars—cementing her place as an Olympic favorite. She made the team officially after finishing second behind Biles in the all-around at the Olympic Trials in July. She was the first Latina to make the US team in 32 years.
In the run-up to Rio, Laurie’s bubbly personality and exaggerated expressions earned her lots of attention. Fans nicknamed her The Human Emogee. She also made the decision to go pro, giving up a scholarship to the University of Florida.
Laurie grabbed her first of what will certainly be many more medals when the “Final Five” obliterated Russia and China in the team all-around to win the gold medal. Team captain Raisman led the way with a near-flawless floor program. As Laurie accepted her medal on the podium, she became the first person born in the 21st century to win Olympic gold.
Laurie’s bid for a second gold medal, on the balance beam, fell just short. She took silver behind Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands, 15.466 to 15.333. Simone Biles, the favorite in the event, nearly fell off the beam and finished third. Laurie’s performance and poise under pressure was all the more remarkable given that, technically, this was her first major international competition. It was one year earlier—to the day—that she had won the junior all-around title.