Not to be overshadowed by the regular gymnstics, these athletes have already earned a trip to the Olympics in Rio this summer

By Julie Stewart
Updated: June 19, 2016
USA Today

While many Olympic hopefuls are still fighting for their ticket to Rio, the U.S. rhythmic gymnastics group competition team is ready to go for gold. Five young women were named to the team on Sunday at the 2016 USA Gymnastics Championships in Providence, Rhode Island.

Congrats are in order for Kiana Eide, Alisa Kano, Natalie McGiffert, Monica Rokhman, and Kristen Shaldybin. Jennifer Rokhman, Monica's twin sister, will be the replacement athlete. (We've got more Rio 2016 Olympic Hopefuls You Need to Start Following On Instagram.)

This is a groundbreaking year for the squad. Last fall, for the first time, the team placed high enough at the world championships to earn an Olympic berth. Yes, an American team competed at the Atlanta games in 1996-the year the group competition in rhythmic gymnastics debuted-but that was because they automatically qualified as the host country. (The individual competition in rhythmic gymnastics, on the other hand, has been part of the Olympics since 1984.)

These athletes are strong and synergetic. The women compete as a unit, performing two routines lasting approximately two and a half minutes. Unlike artistic gymnasts, such as gold medalists Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, rhythmic gymnasts incorporate apparatus with their acrobatics. In one routine, all five ladies use a ribbon-similar to the Ribbon Dancer you might have been obsessed with in the '90s. In the other, they toss six clubs and two hoops between them while performing their stunts. All those splits and jetés require great flexibility: In one study from Norway, rhythmic gymnasts scored two to four times higher on flexibility tests than women who played sports that required less stretching. (Psst... Here are 4 Tips for Increasing Your Flexibility.)

If the U.S. team scores high enough to win a medal, they'll make history again, because American athletes have never brought home hardware in this sport. The Russian team earned the gold in the last four Olympics. (Did you know Russia's Track and Field Team Has Been Banned from the Rio Olympics?)

The first round of group competition is slated to stream live on at 9 a.m. Eastern on August 20. Here's hoping these ladies can bring home the gold!



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