Laurie Hernandez made history in Rio de Janeiro Tuesday as she won a gold medal in the gymnastics team competition finals. The youngest member of one of the most diverse U.S. female gymnastics teams in history, 16-year-old Hernandez was the first U.S.-born Hispanic woman since 1984 to qualify for the team.
Hernandez finished with the third-best score Tuesday. And she and her teammates didn't just place first: they beat second-place Russia by 8.209 points, the largest margin since the 1960 Rome Games.
There could be more medals on the way. Fans will be able to catch Hernandez next Monday in the balance beam final. (She wasn't chosen for the floor final; each country sends only two athletes for each individual event.)
The granddaughter of Puerto Ricans, Hernandez hails from Old Bridge, New Jersey and is known for her exuberant style, which earned her the nickname the "human emoji."
She also sees herself as an inspiration for women of color in a largely white sport. “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,” Hernandez told the Guardian before her Olympic debut.
She's also a star in the Puerto Rican community. Actor and composer Lin Manuel Miranda wished her luck on Twitter, writing: "You make us proud. Pa'lante boricua!"
“I am so proud of my heritage,” she told Fox News Latino. “I think it’s amazing that I can just go out there and be myself and the fact that I’m carrying Puerto Rico on my back a little bit, I think that’s an honor.”
Her family members are some of her biggest fans. "It's blowing my mind how the same little girl I used to see doing flips on my bed at age 6 now has a gold medal," wrote Hernandez's brother Marcus on Instagram Tuesday.
When NJ.com asked proud father Anthony Hernandez what he felt seeing his daughter win gold, he couldn't find the words. "Everything," he said. "And nothing."