(Also, I love that we're jumping from wrestling to rhythmic gymnastics. I don't think you could find sports that are more polar opposite than these two. LOVE IT.)
+ Laura was born in 1999 (which certainly makes me feel like a grandma) and has been competing in gymnastics since she was seven. Before that, her hobby was Chinese folk dance, and she credits that background to influencing some of her style in her routines. UM, awesome. And speaking of awesome, she began her career in 2007 and was winning competitions in 2008. Casual.
+ As a junior, Laura won... uh, just about everything. But most noteworthy was her bronze medal at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games, as it was the first medal for an American rhythmic gymnast at any Olympic competition. For real: rhythmic gymnastics has been on the Olympic program since 1984, and the highest an American athlete has placed is 11th, in 1984. But those '84 Games were boycotted by the Soviet bloc, and Eastern European countries are the powerhouses of the sport... so if you think about it, that 11th place almost doesn't even count. Laura, however, earned a very real bronze medal behind a Belarusian and a Russian. The girl is legit.
+ 2015 is Laura's first season as a senior. And she's, y'know, still winning all the things domestically. Despite there being more experienced gymnasts on the team, Laura is unquestionably the star. Remember the Pan American Games I keep talking about? Well, Laura won five gold medals there. FIVE. She swept the individual events; all-around, clubs, ball, hoop and ribbon. This made her not only the winningest American athlete at the Games, but the winningest athlete period. Across all nations and all sports, she was the only five-time gold medalist.
+ The rhythmic gymnastics world championships were last week, and were Laura's first on the senior level. If you hadn't picked up on it already, the U.S. is traditionally not particularly good at rhythmic gymnastics. Our athletes generally aren't much of a factor internationally, and we only had a representative at London 2012 because every continent needs to be represented in Olympic competition, so the top-ranked athlete that hadn't yet qualified was given the North America wildcard spot (and she happened to be American). You know at the Winter Olympics how there are alpine skiers from countries in Africa and the Caribbean that are really just there for representation and a feel-good story? Well, that is the United States in rhythmic gymnastics. Olympic quota spots are earned with a top-15 finish at world championships and, because our gymnasts usually don't even advance to the final, have been entirely out of reach. BUT along comes Laura Zeng, at her very first senior-level world championships, who not only makes the final, but finishes eighth. GUYS, she earned the U.S. an Olympic quota spot! She HANDILY earned the U.S. an Olympic quota spot! That. is. amazing.
Laura hasn't officially been named to the Olympic team (yet) -- trials aren't until next year -- but you can be certain that I'll be watching rhythmic during Rio!