From the moment she was announced as a cast member on this year’s season of Dancing with the Stars, the hype was big for gold medal-winning Olympian Laurie Hernandez. After all, she had killer moves on the balance beam — why wouldn’t she be equally epic on the dance floor?
And from week 1, she was.
Doing a cha cha to Bonnie McKee’s “American Girl,” Hernandez and her partner, Val Chmerkovskiy, earned a 31/40, tying with James Hinchcliffe and Sharna Burgess for the highest score of the night.
The next week, she and Chmerkovskiy upped their score by a point, to 32, with a jive to the theme of Duck Tales. It was again the highest score of the night.
On week 3, it was a tango for which they scored an impressive 31 points. However, they failed to nab the top spot on the leaderboard for the first time, coming in a point short to Calvin Johnson Jr. and Lindsay Arnold.
For Cirque de Soleil night, Hernandez and Chmerkovskiy did a near-perfect jazz routine to Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” The judges loved it — so much so, they gave the pair the season’s first perfect score.
Next, the two danced to Katy Perry’s Olympic anthem “Rise” in honor of Hernandez’s incredibly memorable year. It was a tough week for Hernandez — doing her first-ever paso doble — and she and Chmerkovskiy took a bit of a score dip, down to 25/30. It was hardly a bump in the road for this power couple, however.
For Latin night, it was back to their tip-top scores: 37/40 for a salsa.
Hernandez and Chmerkovskiy “went to prom” together — and back to the 1960s — for decades week with a quickstep. It didn’t score quite as highly as they would have liked: two 8s and two 9s. But hey, she got to go to the prom, and that counts for something!
Halloween was celebrated on Dancing with the Stars with a waltz from the pair. It went off without a hitch, earning the couple their second perfect score of the entire competition.
She may be just 16 years old, but Hernandez can “Cell Block Tango” with the best of them, as her scores proved: four 10s!
And before we knew it, it was semifinal time. Hernandez and Chmerkovskiy did two dances: the first, a foxtrot, and the second, a samba. Even more impressive? They managed to pull off two perfect scores — despite the sad news that Hernandez lost her grandmother to Alzheimer’s disease that week.
After that emotional performance (we’re not crying, you’re crying), Hernandez was off to the finals — and survived round one, ultimately winning the Mirrorball trophy on the Nov. 22 season finale. “I just want to thank everyone for their support and riding along this crazy roller coaster of my life,” Hernandez said after the big announcement. “My goal is just to inspire others as I go on with my journey and thanks for being there for me.”