With the 2021 U.S. Championships in the rearview mirror, the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team picture is getting a bit clearer.
Given her dominance, seven-time U.S. all-around champion Simone Biles is essentially a lock for the Tokyo Olympics, while Jade Carey has mathematically clinched an individual spot (more below).
The complete U.S. Olympic gymnastics team roster will be named at the conclusion of U.S. Olympic Trials (June 24-27 in St. Louis, Missouri).
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Which gymnasts will compete at U.S. Olympic Trials?
Following the conclusion of the 2021 U.S. National Championships on Sunday, 18 women were selected for the 2021 U.S. National team and U.S. Olympic Trials:
- Simone Biles, Spring, Texas/World Champions Centre
- Skye Blakely, Frisco, Texas/WOGA Gymnastics
- Jade Carey, Phoenix, Ariz./Arizona Sunrays
- Jordan Chiles, Spring, Texas/World Champions Centre
- Kayla DiCello, Boyds, Md./Hill’s Gymnastics
- Amari Drayton, Spring, Texas/World Champions Centre
- Kara Eaker, Grain Valley, Mo./Great American Gymnastics Express
- Addison Fatta, Wrightsville, Pa./Prestige Gymnastics
- Shilese Jones, Westerville, Ohio/Future Gymnastics Academy
- Emily Lee, Los Gatos, Calif./West Valley Gymnastics School
- Sunisa Lee, St. Paul, Minn./Midwest Gymnastics Center
- Emma Malabuyo, Flower Mound, Texas/Texas Dreams
- Grace McCallum, Isanti, Minn./Twin City Twisters
- Riley McCusker, Brielle, N.J./Arizona Sunrays
- Zoe Miller, Spring, Texas, World Champions Centre
- Ava Siegfeldt, Williamsburg, Va./World Class Gymnastics
- MyKayla Skinner, Gilbert, Ariz./Desert Lights Gymnastics
- Leanne Wong, Overland Park, Kan./Great American Gymnastics Express
Athletes not automatically selected were allowed to petition to compete at U.S. Olympic Trials, but USA Gymnastics did not accept any petitions.
One particularly notable omission is 2017 world all-around champion and 2020 American Cup all-around winner Morgan Hurd, who had two surgeries on her elbow in March. Hurd, who is known for her activism and social justice work, competed only two events at U.S. Championships (finishing 23rd on floor and 26th on balance beam).
Also missing is two-time Olympic medalist Laurie Hernandez, who withdrew from Championships on Friday after hyperextending her left knee while warming up on balance beam.
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How will the 2021 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team be selected?
In a change since previous Olympics – where each team consisted of five athletes – the Tokyo Olympics will feature a four-person team competition.
But that doesn’t mean that only four women will make the U.S. team.
Confused? You’re not alone.
Here’s how it works:
Olympic team event (4 gymnasts):
The U.S. qualified a four-person team by winning gold in the team event at the 2018 World Championships. Those four spots will be filled as follows:
- First place in the all-around at U.S. Olympic Trials (very likely Simone Biles, who hasn’t lost an all-around competition since 2013)
- Second place in the all-around at U.S. Olympic Trials
- Selected by committee
- Selected by committee
Individual Olympic spots (2 gymnasts):
Two spots are available for individuals. These athletes will still be part of the U.S. team, but they won’t be allowed to compete in the team event.
- Jade Carey (mathematically clinched via 2018-2020 apparatus World Cup series, more below)
- Selected by committee
Wait, how did Jade Carey qualify for the Olympics ahead of Olympic Trials?
After the 2016 Rio Olympics, the international federation that oversees gymnastics (FIG) revamped Olympic qualification procedures for the Tokyo Games. One of the major changes was allowing athletes to earn individual Olympic spots by name.
Jade Carey, who is coached by her father Brian, took advantage of this new pathway. In 2018, Carey opted not to compete at the World Championships, knowing that if she won a medal as a member of the U.S. team, she would not be eligible to earn an individual quota spot.
“I’ve known about this qualification process for over a year,” Brian told OlympicTalk in 2018. “I’ve studied it, researched it and stayed up to date on changes… We didn’t make the rules. It’s just my job to stay on top of the rules, stay updated, make sure I’m doing what’s in the best interest for my athlete.”
In April 2020, Carey mathematically clinched a spot at the Tokyo Games thanks to her strong performances on vault and floor at four World Cup competitions between 2018 and 2019.
Carey is still expected to compete at U.S. Olympic Trials. And if she finishes first or second in the all-around, she would automatically earn the right to compete for the U.S. in the four-person team event in Tokyo.
If she accepts that spot, the quota place she earned by name could not be filled by another American gymnast, meaning the U.S. would only send five women to the Games instead of six.
“It would be up to her,” U.S. high performance director Tom Forster said on Sunday night.
After her sixth-place finish in the all-around this past weekend, it seems unlikely Carey will finish in the top two at Trials. And Carey is not expected to be selected if she finishes third or fourth, given that her individual spot would then be lost.
However, it should also be pointed out that, once Carey gets to Tokyo, she will still have the chance to compete in the individual all-around.
During qualification in Tokyo, individual athletes will be allowed to compete on any/all events except the team event. So even though Carey earned her Olympic spot thanks to strong showings on vault and floor, she would still be allowed to compete on uneven bars and balance beam, and therefore has the potential to qualify for the individual all-around final.
The two-per-country rule would still apply, meaning only the top two Americans (whether entered as individuals or team members) would be able to compete in the individual all-around, as well as individual event finals.
What’s particularly interesting is that when Carey decided to aim for individual spot, that choice made sense given that she wasn’t a particularly strong all-arounder, but had massive potential on both floor and vault (she won world silver medals on both at 2017 Worlds). But in the years since, Carey has also made strides on uneven bars and balance beam. And given that she is currently on a different timeline than the rest of the U.S. team (and also dealing with an ankle injury), it doesn’t seem like she has yet shown her full potential. Ahead of U.S. Championships, Carey trained a triple-twisting double back layout on floor, a skill that would make her an even stronger contender for a medal in that event. (Biles also does a triple-twisting double back on floor, but in the tucked position.)
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Ok, so which women will make the four-person U.S. Olympic gymnastics team?
Biles has long been considered a near-lock to make the U.S. Olympic team. In addition to winning a record-breaking seventh all-around national title at the 2021 U.S. Championships, Biles also extended her undefeated streak: she has won every all-around competition she’s entered since March 2013.
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Also at U.S. Championships, two additional women set themselves apart from the rest of the field: Suni Lee and Jordan Chiles.
Lee was the only athlete not named “Simone Biles” to claim a national title at U.S. Championships. With her family in the stands, Lee – who claimed three medals at 2019 Worlds – posted the highest score on uneven bars and also finished second in the all-around, a particularly impressive achievement given that the 18-year-old is currently coming back from a foot/Achilles injury.
“She seems like she’s right back where she was in 2019,” Forster said on Sunday night.
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Chiles finished third in the all-around, continuing a streak of consistent performances. She started her season by winning February’s Winter Cup and then continued her momentum with a second-place finish at last month’s U.S. Classic.
“Jordan has shown great consistency this year,” Forster said. “She’s done an incredible job and she looks like a solid contender.”
Two years ago, Chiles was on the verge of quitting the sport, but she ultimately decided to move to Texas, where she now trains alongside Biles at World Champions Centre. After Sunday’s competition, Biles gave her new training partner high marks.
“She did exactly what she was supposed to: out here tonight – and at Classics – and at Winter Cup,” Biles said. “If we keep this going, we have a good shot of making the Olympic team together and going to Tokyo.”
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Apart from Biles, Chiles, and Lee, who else is in the mix for the four-person U.S. Olympic gymnastics team?
Quite a few athletes!
At U.S. Championships, gymnasts who finished fourth through ninth were separated by less than a point. Here’s the list of top finishers:
1. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 119.650
2. Sunisa Lee, St. Paul, Minn., 114.950
3. Jordan Chiles, Spring, Texas, 114.450
4. Emma Malabuyo, Flower Mound, Texas, 110.450
5. Leanne Wong, Overland Park, Kan., 110.150
6. Jade Carey, Phoenix, Ariz., 110.000
7. Grace McCallum, Isanti, Minn., 109.550
7. Skye Blakely, Frisco, Texas, 109.550
9. MyKayla Skinner, Gilbert, Ariz., 109.500
10. Kara Eaker, Grain Valley, Mo., 109.050
11. Kayla DiCello, Boyds, Md., 108.800
12. Shilese Jones, Westerville, Ohio, 108.500
Fourth place marked an impressive comeback for Emma Malabuyo, the 2017 U.S. junior silver medalist whose career has been defined mostly by injuries in the years since.
“Clearly Emma Malabuyo was super impressive,” Forster said. “She came out of a very, very low position at the U.S. Classic, and it’s great to see her back in her international form that she was in a couple years ago since she’s wrestled with a couple injuries here and there.”
Because the Olympic team event uses a “three up, three count” scoring system, the top four athletes in the all-around at Olympic Trials might not necessarily represent the four athletes who can best contribute to the U.S. team’s score.
For example, the highest-scoring three-count team from both days of U.S. Nationals would be Biles, Lee, Chiles, and fifth-place finisher Leanne Wong, while the highest scoring team using only night two scores would be Biles, Lee, Chiles, and MyKayla Skinner.
Finally, don’t count out two-time team event world champion Grace McCallum (who is coming back from hand surgery earlier this year), Skye Blakely (a 16-year-old who was 35 days too young to compete in Tokyo before the one-year postponement), and Kayla DiCello (the 2019 U.S. junior all-around champion).
To determine how to complete the team, Forster says he will use a ProScore tool that allows him to consider “every possible scenario of team formation to get the highest score.”
What about the other individual Olympic spot?
On Sunday night, Forster confirmed that an athlete doesn’t need to be a strong all-arounder to earn the final individual spot.
“Whoever is really stepping up and showing the best potential for winning a medal – or medals – will earn that spot,” he said.
Riley McCusker (second on uneven bars behind Lee at Championships) and MyKayla Skinner (second on vault behind Biles) are prime contenders for that spot. Suni Lee – if she isn’t selected for the team event – would also be a clear choice due to her strength on uneven bars.
What’s expected of the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team in Tokyo?
Quite simply: gold.
The U.S. women’s team has won the last two Olympic team gold medals and the same is expected in Tokyo, regardless of which four athletes make the team.
In addition to leading the U.S. team, Simone Biles is also favored to win four individual gold medals (all-around, floor, vault, and balance beam), and should contend for a medal on uneven bars (her so-called weak event).
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NBC Olympics researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this story.
Note: a previous version of this story misstated the name of the software used to calculate team scores. It is ProScore, not Prosport.
Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC