Laura Zeng won her second straight rhythmic gymnastics all-around national title Sunday night in Providence, Rhode Island, to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. If she stays on the trajectory she started two years ago, expect Zeng to make history this summer in Brazil.
Only 16 years old, Zeng has been breaking barriers for the U.S. in her sport, soaring to unprecedented heights for a U.S. rhythmic gymnast. With her bronze medal at the Nanjing 2014 Olympic Games, she became the first U.S. rhythmic athlete to win a medal at an Olympic or Youth Olympic Games. In May she became the first American to medal at a world cup when she won bronzes in hoop and ribbon in Minsk, Belarus.
Building on the momentum gained from her bronze medal in Nanjing, Zeng established herself as the Western Hemisphere’s pre-eminent rhythmic gymnast by sweeping all five available gold medals at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games, only the second athlete to achieve the feat. She rode that crest to the highest all-around placement ever by a U.S. athlete at the world championships, finishing eighth and earning the United States its quota spot for Rio.
Zeng will make history if she places in the top 10 in Rio, as Team USA’s best result in individual rhythmic gymnastics at an Olympic Games came in the sport’s debut when Valerie Zimring tied for 11th in 1984.
Since stepping into the international spotlight at the junior level in 2012, Zeng has been rewriting rhythmic history for the United States. In her first year she won the all-around silver at the 2012 Junior Pacific Rim Championships, then added a bronze at a junior world cup event in Sofia, Bulgaria.
The following year, still at the junior level, she won four gold medals (all-around, hoop, clubs and ribbon) and a bronze (ball) at the Gymnastik Schmiden International.