This weekend, a group of young women—girls, they might be called in another context, in their teens and early 20s—competed to become part of the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. In the end, the five selected to represent the U.S. in Rio were Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, returning to the sport after their gold-winning efforts in London; Simone Biles, the all-around world champion for three years running; Laurie Hernandez; and Madison Kocian. (Ashton Locklear, MyKayla Skinner, and Ragan Smith will be alternates.) This was the team that was expected to result before the trials started; the young women are, given their strengths and their particular mix of talents and skills, are favorites to win all-around gold.
For viewers, women’s gymnastics is steadfastly popular because of the juxtapositions the sport offers: It is a tangle not just of sport and artistry, but also of youth and adulthood, of preparation and spontaneity, of physical strength and more more ephemeral femininity. (“Don’t cry,” one of the athletes admonished another on Sunday night after a particularly spectacular performance. “You’ll ruin your makeup.”) They’re collisions—all that human stuff, balancing and vaulting and glittering—that make you want to know the backstories of each athlete. And while NBC will surely supply those stories in August, in the form of the treacly mini-documentaries that accompany the competition, in the intervening weeks there is a very good stand-in: Make It or Break It, the gymnastics-themed drama that aired on ABC Family (now renamed Freeform) from 2009 to 2012. The show is, essentially, the heavily fictionalized version of what played out this weekend.