Simone Biles is the one to watch, according to these gymnastics experts, who also provide insight into the lesser-known names

By Stephanie Petit Rebecca Sloane
July 09, 2016 07:15 AM
David Livingston/Getty; Bryan Bedder/Getty

Shawn Johnson and Shannon Miller may have hung up their leotards for good, but the former Olympians couldn’t be more excited for the 2016 gymnastics team.

For fans tuning into the Olympic trials (Friday night at 9 p.m. ET and Sunday night at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC), the veteran gold medalists have weighed in with their personal predictions and advice on which rising stars to watch.

Johnson and Miller both believe 2012 gold medalists Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas will make the cut for Rio, an impressive feat.

“I’m excited to see both of them back at the Olympic Games,” Miller says. “They work hard and stay focused. That’s a big deal. People ask, ‘Why are you staying in when you’ve already done it and got a gold medal?’ Gabby has said there’s no ulterior motive other than ‘I really think I can do it! I love gymnastics and I’m not ready to give it up.’ That’s the best attitude you can have.”

There will also be some new faces joining Team USA, but Johnson is unsure of who will make the cut.

“It’s a toss up,” she says. “There are two or three spots that are really up for anyone. It’s hard to name because there’s so many. I’m pulling for Laurie Hernandez. Maggie Nichols. A ton of them.”

Johnson is also rooting for Simone Biles, who “should be on the team if she stays healthy.” After all, she just won her fourth-straight all-around championship, something that hasn’t been done in four decades. Johnson thinks Biles (who won three all-around world championships) is setting a new bar in the sport of gymnastics.

“Simone is the greatest gymnast of all time,” Johnson says. “Most of the time with women’s gymnastics, you might throw one or two hard skills that are the highlight of your routine, but she literally takes every hard skill that’s ever been done and puts them in one routine. She does it with ease, and she executes it perfectly. She’s got flexibility and power – she’s the full package.”

Miller echoes Johnson’s praise, expecting Biles to win it all at the Games.

“[Simone] is a very consistent athlete. She rarely has a major mistake – knock on wood!” Miller tells PEOPLE. “Barring any health issues, she is going to take the gold.”

Miller also weighed in on the other gymnasts vying for a spot on the Rio team of 5.

Laurie Hernandez: “She’s fantastic, definitely one that I’ve had my eye on. She’s done a tremendous job. The bar score is maybe not the highest of any bar score but she is also a good all-arounder. I think she’s really shown that she’s ready.”

Madison Kocian: “Also a great uneven bar worker and that’s really her leverage to get on the team. That’s really where she can make her mark. She has to be consistent; she has to hit and prove that she can throw a big score every time. She definitely has a good chance of making the team.”

Ashton Locklear: “[She] is also in that same position where it’s going to come down to uneven bars, I think, for that last spot on the team.”

Maggie Nichols: “A true all-around athlete, but she has had a knee injury that she’s covering from. This weekend she has to prove she’s 100% prepared and ready to go, injury-wise and physically. Also that she can be consistent and earn those scores – not just in the uneven bars, but for every event.”

MyKayla Skinner: “She’s incredible and she’s extremely strong, and if she’s throwing a big vault and throwing a big score, that’s difficult to ignore. [That’s] not necessarily a weak event for Team USA, but that could definitely be an interesting move. She’s in the running for sure.”

Ragan Smith: “Ragan is awesome. I love watching her. Even if she doesn’t make the team I think this is really just the beginning for her. She’s done such a tremendous job. She really has the consistency, she has a difficult routine and can get those big scores. I can definitely see that if she has a great competition, there’s a possibility she can make the team.”

Johnson also talked about how Instagram, Twitter and other sites have made gymnastics more fun and relatable because the athletes feel more like real people.

“Gymnastics was, for so long, so alienated from everything because these girls were minors – little kids in middle school and high school that nobody could really talk to or understand what their lifestyle was like,” she says. “Now with social media, you can see that they are just kids and they have fun and they’re not just machines.”

Miller will be at the Olympics as an ambassador for Hershey’s campaign Hello From Home, which connects athletes with their fans and family while they compete at the Games. Johnson will also be in Rio with Yahoo Sports.