The United States will head to the 2021 Olympics with a gymnastics team of Simone Biles and five women who'll be new to the sport's biggest stage.
USA Gymnastics named its squad for Tokyo on Sunday night, amid spotlights and fireworks in St. Louis. Joining Biles at the Games will be Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles, Grace McCallum, Jade Carey and MyKayla Skinner.
Biles and Lee finished first and second at trials. A selection committee chose Chiles, the third-place finisher, and Grace McCallum, a narrow fourth, for the final two team spots. "It seemed appropriate to go in rank order," said USA Gymnastics high-performance coordinator Tom Forster, who headed the committee. "So that’s what we did.”
Carey, who mathematically qualified last year, and Skinner, a committee pick, will compete as individuals. Riley McCusker, a bars specialist who starred on the first night of trials, missed the cut after a mistake on Sunday, the second and final night. Kayla DiCello, Kara Eaker, Emma Malabuyo and Leanne Wong will go to Tokyo as alternates.
The four-woman team will be favored, overwhelmingly, to win team gold next month. All six will then vie for individual medals, and could rival the 2016 Olympic team's haul – because as a collective, they're almost as balanced as an Olympic gymnastics team can be.
Oh, and because they have the GOAT.
Simone Biles | 24 | Spring, Tx.
Medal contender on: Vault, floor, beam, all-around
Many female gymnasts who star at the Olympics don't return four years later. Biles, on the other hand, isn't just back five years later; she's better, stronger, flying higher and performing more difficult skills than ever before. She's the closest thing gymnastics has ever seen to a gold-medal lock in the all-around, on floor and on vault.
Biles won those golds, plus the team event, in Rio. She also took home bronze on balance beam in 2016. Three years later, at world championships, she won the beam competition too. That — five golds, missing only bars — is probably her ceiling in Tokyo, and she might very well hit it.
Sunisa Lee | 18 | Saint Paul, Minn.
Medal contender on: Bars, beam, all-around
Lee, a world championships veteran, is the only American gold medal contender not named Biles. She's excellent on bars — Biles' weakest event — and could complete a U.S. sweep of women's gymnastics golds in Tokyo. Her 15.300 on bars Friday night — "it's such a hard bar routine, and it finally came together," she said — would've been good enough for gold at 2019 worlds. And while scores don't necessarily translate across meets — and especially not across time and international borders — Lee's put the world on notice.
Her brilliance on beam, and room for growth on floor, could put her in contention for all-around silver or bronze as well. She actually finished with a higher all-around score than Biles on Sunday night alone. She didn't realize until her coaches told her an hour later.
"I know it probably won't happen again," Lee said afterward. "But it does give me a lot of confidence going into the Olympics."
Jordan Chiles | 20 | Vancouver, Wash.
Medal contender on: Floor, bars, all-around
Chiles was a celebrated junior gymnast who then, for years, toiled just below the sport's summit. She was passed over by selection committees for major international meets. In 2018, she almost checked out. Almost gave up. Almost said goodbye to the sport.
Instead, she committed herself, graduated high school, moved to Texas, and began training with Biles. She improved. And in 2021, she's been perfect, hitting 24-of-24 routines at meets. After the 24th, a floor exercise that all but guaranteed her spot in Tokyo, emotions overwhelmed her. Biles teared up too. "I'm so proud of you," Biles told her friend.
Chiles — who's named after Michael Jordan and nicknamed "Chick" — is the ideal third member of a four-woman team, strong and consistent on all four apparatuses.
Grace McCallum | 18 | Isanti, Minn.
McCallum came back from a horrific injury five years ago — one that threatened her future in gymnastics — to make world championships teams in 2018 and 2019. She claimed fourth place at trials by a margin of 0.3 points. She likely won't contend for an individual medal in Tokyo, but will contribute to the team score on vault and floor.
Jade Carey | 21 | Phoenix, Ariz.
Medal contender on: Vault, floor
Carey is a world championships silver-medalist on vault, and probably the favorite to earn the U.S.'s second spot in the vault final behind Biles. She's also a contender to join Biles in the floor final — and she said Sunday night that she plans to debut a triple-twisting double layout in Tokyo, a floor skill that nobody, not even Biles, has ever done before in competition.
MyKayla Skinner | 24 | Gilbert, Ariz.
Medal contender on: Vault
Skinner, the oldest competitor at trials, and the only one who's married, put herself into contention for the fourth and final team spot with a huge Friday night. She wasn't quite as good Sunday, and lost that spot to McCallum, but earned the individual spot. And her story is remarkable.
Skinner finished fourth in the all-around at 2016 trials, but was named an alternate for Rio. She then went to college for three years, then returned to the elite scene for another run at the Olympics. At worlds in 2019, she was again an alternate. Two years later, she's an Olympian.
"She's an amazing inspiration, that has just put in the work," Forster said.
How many medals can the U.S. women's gymnastics team win?
Five years ago, the "Final Five" — Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian — won nine of a possible 11 women's gymnastics medals in Rio. The number is capped at 11 because only two gymnasts from a given country can compete in each individual final.
In 2016, the U.S. won team gold; doubled up in the all-around, on beam and on floor; and claimed one medal apiece on vault and bars. The 2021 team appears to capable of equaling that total.
Performances over the past several months and results from pre-pandemic international meets suggest this year's group will likely win the following medals:
The U.S. could add to that tally via:
Lee or Chiles — most likely Lee — in the all-around
Carey or Skinner on vault
Lee on beam
Carey or Chiles on floor
Chiles, or even Biles, could be a fringe contender on bars as well, but that seems likely to be the event in which the U.S. doesn't claim two medals. And that's why the selection of Skinner for the last individual Olympic spot was controversial. Even without her, the U.S. likely could have claimed two medals on vault — Skinner's best event. With Riley McCusker, a bars double would have been in play, and the U.S. realistically could have maxed out its medal count.
"Clearly, coming into this competition, she was establishing herself as the second-best bar worker in our country," Forster said of McCusker. Then he gave a mostly illogical explanation for why the committee didn't choose her.
The U.S. women, though, will win plenty in Tokyo, no matter who the selection committee chose. Because one of them is named Simone Biles.
Biles, if she does leave Japan with five golds around her neck, would pull into a tie for second place on the all-time Olympic gold medal charts. That, as they say, would just be #SimoneThings.
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