MyKayla Skinner, 24, is the oldest woman competing at U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials in St. Louis, Missouri.
And apart from Simone Biles, Skinner is the only woman with Olympic Trials experience.
But for Skinner, her 2016 Trials experience ended in tears.
Skinner, then 19, finished fourth in the all-around, but was not named to the five-woman Olympic team. Instead, she traveled to Rio as one of three alternates, along with Ashton Locklear and Ragan Smith.
“Being an alternate is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in gymnastics,” Skinner reflected to Olympic Talk last July. “The whole time I was in Rio, I probably cried every single night.”
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When she returned home from the Olympic Games, she enrolled at the University of Utah. As a college gymnast, she twice finished as runner-up in the all-around at NCAA Championships.
In most sports, there is a pipeline from college athletics to the Olympics. But that’s not typically the case in gymnastics. The last female gymnast to compete in college – and then make a U.S. Olympic team – was Alicia Sacramone in 2008.
But in 2019, Skinner bucked tradition, announcing her decision to return to elite competition. She placed eighth at U.S. Championships, and then earned a spot on the 2019 world team – before being named the alternate.
Biles helped Skinner get through that experience. “She helped talk me through it and helped me calm down and definitely made me a feel a lot better,” Skinner told Olympic Talk.
After night one of competition at 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials, Skinner is in a familiar position: fourth. Still, it’s an improvement from her ninth-place result at U.S. Championships earlier this month.
Skinner started Olympic Trials on vault, one of her best events (along with floor). She scored 15.113 points (third highest score behind Biles and Jade Carey):
Skinner earned 13.466 points (tie 10th) on uneven bars, and then recorded a score of 14.133 (fifth) on balance beam:
She finished night one on floor with a score of 13.866 (fifth):
But even if Skinner repeats that fourth-place result on Sunday night, she won’t be guaranteed a spot on that four-person team. Only the top two athletes (based on combined scores from day one and two) will automatically qualify for the Games.
Because the Olympic team event uses a “three up, three count” scoring system, the top four athletes in the all-around at U.S. Olympic Trials might not necessarily represent the four athletes who can best contribute to the U.S. team’s score.
Given that her strengths are floor and vault (the same as Biles and Carey), Skinner also might not be the best pick for the other individual spot (as only two athletes per country can qualify for the final of each event).
Riley McCusker made a strong case for that individual spot on night one of Trials by finishing second on uneven bars – her only event – with a score of 14.800.
On Thursday, Skinner said her goal was a spot on the four-person team, but noted “either spot would be awesome.”
She continued: “Really hoping I don’t get put in that alternate position, but whatever happens… just being able to be there and being part of Team USA will be super cool.”
Skinner also knows she’s accomplished a lot by just competing this weekend. “This is my second Olympic Trials; most people can’t even say they made it to one,” she said.
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