Simone Biles will be the only returner from the “Final Five” who won gold in Rio four years ago. If selecting a five-person roster was hard in 2016, four is going to be tortuous in 2021. But that is what head coach Tom Forster and the selection committee will be forced to do since the International Gymnastics Federation reduced Olympic team rosters from five to four ahead of Tokyo (before quickly backpedaling and announcing that it will return to five for Paris 2024).
Here’s how the roster is structured this go round.
Olympic Team (4 gymnasts):
First and second place all-around finishers at U.S. Olympic Trials, plus two spots that are selected by committee.
Individual Olympic Spots (2 gymnasts):
Jade Carey already clinched one of these places through an FIG World Cup qualification system. The last remaining individual spot will be selected by committee. These athletes can compete in individual all-around and individual event competitions but not the team competition unless a team member gets injured.
With Biles a seeming lock for spot number one, and spot two earned at trials, the big decisions will be on team spots three and four, along with the one unfilled individual spot. Eighteen women have been invited to St. Louis to compete at the Olympic Trials June 24-27 for a chance at a ticket to Tokyo. While a few names have pulled away from the pack, the final spots are nowhere near decided.
“It’s never been done before. And it’s called, ‘The Biles.’” pic.twitter.com/5uoyYQPzWB— Lindsay Crouse (@lindsaycrouse) June 7, 2021
“It’s never been done before. And it’s called, ‘The Biles.’” pic.twitter.com/5uoyYQPzWB
Two women are almost considered locks for the team roster: Sunisa “Suni” Lee and Jordan Chiles. Lee is an 18 year old from St. Paul who could be the first Hmong American gymnast on the Olympic team. Having recovered from an ankle injury in time to be at almost full force for U.S. Nationals a few weeks ago, Lee made an assertive claim on a roster spot by finishing in second place all-around behind Biles and taking first in the uneven bars and second on beam. It was a special night for the close-knit family, as Lee’s father was cheering in person for the first time since an accident left him paralyzed from the chest down two years ago.
Whereas Lee is an individual medal contender in a few events and then falls farther down the line in others, Jordan Chiles’ success comes from being solid across the board. The 20 year old from Washington now trains in Texas alongside Biles and has been on the senior circuit since 2017. The youngest of five siblings, Chiles has taken the long road to believing she deserves a spot on this elitist of elite rosters. Having Biles in her corner (and breathing down her neck in training) appears to be paying dividends as she recently earned silver all-around at U.S. Classics and bronze all-around at U.S. Nationals.
In The Mix:
After Lee and Chiles, the list bubbles out to a large number of athletes who are all still in the mix for a team spot. This includes 18-year-old Emma Malabuyo from California, who had a disappointing U.S. Classics showing but an incredible U.S. Nationals. Then there is Leanne Wong, who has solid potential to medal individually on floor and beam, and MyKayla Skinner, an alternate from Rio whose strengths nicely compliment the frontrunners for team medal consideration.
Another contender is Grace McCallum, who helped Team USA earn two World Championship titles in 2018 and 2019 and is making her way back from hand surgery earlier this year. Youngster Skye Blakely, who turned 16 in February and is now eligible for the Olympics thanks to the postponement, kept her name in the conversation by tying McCallum for 7th overall at U.S. Nationals. And 2019’s junior national champion Kayla DiCello is still in the running, though her name dropped much further down the list with an 11th overall finish at nationals.
With Jade Carey having already earned one of the two individual spots, the other one is likely to go to either Riley McCusker or MyKayla Skinner (if she’s not given a team spot). McCusker is an uneven bars specialist and Skinner is phenomenal on vault.
Whoever’s Olympic dreams come true when the selection announcement is made, the expectation that accompanies this achievement is indisputable: win team gold in Tokyo.
Tune in: The Women’s Olympic Gymnastics Trials will air on NBC on June 25 at 8pm ET and June 27 at 8:30pm ET.