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Latina gymnast Laurie Hernandez qualifies for the Rio Olympics

It's the first time in 30 years that a U.S.-born Latina will compete for the U.S. gymnastics team
11 Jul 2016 – 04:18 PM EDT
Laurie Hernandez, a Latina of Puerto Rican descent, qualified for the U.S. gymnastics team. Crédito: Getty Images

Known as "baby Shakira" and the "human emoji," one of the youngest athletes to represent the United States at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games is a Latina.

Yesterday Laurie Hernandez, 16, became the first U.S.-born Hispanic woman since 1984 to qualify for the U.S. gymnastics Olympic team.

The granddaughter of Puerto Ricans, Hernandez hails from Old Bridge, New Jersey. A rising star in her field, she went undefeated last year at four competitions. On Sunday, she won a coveted spot on the five-person U.S. Olympic team that will compete in Rio de Janeiro in August. After the Olympics, she's headed to the University of Florida in 2018, where she'll join the gymnastics team there.

"My earliest memory was watching gymnastics on live TV, and wanting to do what the 'big girls' did" she told NBC. The youngest of three children, Hernandez started gymnastics when she was five, and has weathered numerous physical setbacks throughout her career, including a fractured hand and a serious knee injury.

Hernandez will be part of one of the most diverse U.S. gymnastics teams in history, which includes African-American athletes Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas. She also hopes to serve as a role model for Latinas in a largely white sport.

“Si Dios lo quiere [If God wishes], to represent the US as the only Latina gymnast would be such an honor,” Hernandez told the Guardian last week, before she qualified. “I feel I could be a role model to other Hispanic gymnasts interested in the sport but I also want them to understand the importance of being focused, determined, and not giving up, despite all the struggles.”

While Hernandez will compete as part of the U.S. team, she wasn't chosen to compete in the all around competition, U.S. coach Marta Karolyi announced August 6.

Nate Ryan contributed to this report. This report was updated on August 7.

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