Who doesn’t love an underdog? With Maggie Nichols on the rise and in the mix to earn her first Olympic berth this Summer in Rio, she is fast becoming one of the ultimate underdogs in gymnastics.

During the NBC broadcast of the 2015 P&G Championships, Tim Daggett commented that whilst talking to Martha Karolyi she commented that in 2013, Maggie Nichols’ gymnastics was not ready for the world stage, but now, it most certainly is. And the gymnastics community would most certainly concur with Ms.Karolyi on this statement.

2015 was an outstanding year for the Minnesota gymnast. In all four events she showed improvement. She debuted her Amanar on vault and increased her difficulty on uneven bars, balance beam and floor from 5.700 in 2013 on each of the three events to 6.100,6.200 and 6.000 respectively in 2015. An incredible increase in difficulty which helped Ms.Nichols climb from 5th AA with a combined score of 114.700 at the 2013 P&G Championships to 2nd AA with a combined score of 119.150 at the 2015 P&G Championships, importantly placing above returning Olympians Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas.

An absolutely great improvement which helped put her in the mix for the 2016 Olympic team.

Whilst competing in the elite ranks since 2011 and making it to the Visa Championships in 2012, it wasn’t until 2013 that Ms.Nichols was introduced to the international stage when she was chosen to be part of the ‘European tour’, as the gymnasts referred to it (which actually only consisted of competitions in two countries). Whilst this now can be looked on as a pivotal moment in her career and she probably believed it was a big deal, admittedly at the time I, personally did not think of it as an important moment, nor did I take much note of Maggie. Admittedly to me she was a ‘filler in’, a gymnast used mid quadrennium to make up a team whilst Martha waited for the juniors to mature and burst on to the scene. I know, I’m awful to have not seen the magic in Swaggie Maggie. However Maggie continued to improve, continued to work hard, striving to be better. Spurred on by a knee injury in 2014 at the Pan American Championships in Canada, Maggie seemed to have a fire in her eyes and she was going for it in 2015. A fire that came to it’s apex in Glasgow at the World Championships. A fire that continues to burn as Ms. Nichols gears up for the 2016 season.

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The ultimate underdog; Aly Raisman

You see, the special thing about the underdog is that they work for it. They want it. Many do not have bags of natural talent but they keep trying. There is something charming about them and you can tell they live and breath their sport. Aly Raisman is another gymnast that springs to mind when one mentions underdog. Raisman came onto the elite scene in 2009, finishing 3rd AA at Visa Championships and making the National Team. Immediately she began a whirlwind career of international assignment after international assignment and was clearly one of Martha’s favourites. Consistent and calm under pressure, she could deliver her best routines when it mattered and continuously won medals internationally. And although her gymnastics career brought great success, it also brought disappointment, finishing 4th so many times in finals it seemed like the judges were doing it on purpose. However Ms. Raisman kept trying, kept working hard in the shadow of the big stars of the time, Jordyn Wieber and later, Gabby Douglas and was consistently noted to be one of the hardest working gymnasts by many. The fruit of her labour? 2 gold medals and a bronze at the 2012 London Games. And now, here we are in early 2016, and she is on the path to become a 2 time Olympian. Something that many more talented, more naturally gifted gymnasts do not have the title of.

Aly, of course does have a lot of talent but certainly, as a child she would not have been picked out as a two time Olympian. Simply put, hard work, perseverance, love of the sport got her where she is and it didn’t hurt constantly being an underdog. The underdog bites harder, right?

You route for the underdog, you want the underdog to win. Who doesn’t want the programme in the Netherlands to succeed? Who wasn’t absolutely thrilled to see Maggie get a bronze on floor at the 2015 World Championships? Who wasn’t overjoyed to see Aly shine in 2012? It is a special thing in sports. Some are born to be great, some work harder than anyone else and become great. I hope more than anything that we will see Maggie shine in 2016, just as Aly did in 2012. If this doesn’t happen, she will shine at Oklahoma and honestly, she has gone further than I, and probably she could have ever imagined!

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