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Old Bridge’s Hernandez makes U.S. Olympics gymnastics team

By Warren Rappleyea

The phenomenon that is Laurie Hernandez will continue when the Old Bridge resident represents the United States at the Olympic Games this August in Rio de Janeiro.

Hernandez, 16, finished second in the all-around competition at the Olympic Trials in San Jose, California, July 10 to secure her place on the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team. She joins renowned gymnasts Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and Madison Kocian, along with alternates Ragan Smith, MyKayla Skinner and Ashton Locklear.

Hernandez, who trains at Monmouth Gymnastics Academy in Marlboro, placed first in the beam, third in the floor exercise and fourth in the vault at the San Jose trials.

Naturally, Hernandez’s hometown was in a celebratory mode with one of its own heading to Rio. Shortly before her performance on Sunday evening, Hernandez’s brother, Marcus, a former track standout at Old Bridge High School and now a middle distance competitor at Rutgers University, tweeted, “my sister competes in an hour. Would appreciate it if we could get a #teamlaurie trend started since she’s representing Old Bridge.”

That  was promptly retweeted by many Old Bridge residents.

“It’s great for our town to be able to get behind someone like Laurie Hernandez,” said Sally Fazio, a vice principal at Old Bridge High School. “By the time she got to high school age, she was being tutored so she could continue to compete, but we’re behind her 100 percent. This is a wonderful community, and we pride ourselves for being there for our people in good times and bad.”

Earlier this year, the high school helped organize fundraisers for the families of students who lost their homes in fires.

Like many local residents, Fazio watched the Trials on television and rooted for Hernandez to make the team.

“She comes from a very athletic and supportive family, so we were all very excited for her,” Fazio said. “It was really sweet of Marcus [Hernandez] to send out that tweet, and so many people got rallied around it to support Laurie. I don’t know Laurie, but she has that same exuberance that Marcus has. You can see she really enjoys the competition.”

Following her selection, Laurie Hernandez tweeted, “So proud of everyone who competed. I can finally say I’m representing USA at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics.

Earlier this year, Laurie Hernandez began entering senior-level competitions. In June, she finished third all-around in the P&G National Championships. In April, she helped the U.S. team to a first-place finish in the Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships. She began the year with a bronze medal for all-around in the 2016 City of Jesolo Trophy competition in Italy.

In 2015, she was the U.S. Junior National Champion.

Laurie Hernandez began making her mark as a competitor at the age of 12 when she qualified for the Visa U.S. National Championships. By July 2013, she had become a member of the U.S. Junior National Team and represented the U.S. at the Junior Japan Invitational, where she earned a bronze medal in the all-around. She helped the U.S. win the Junior Mexican Cup later that year.

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