Fort Worth, Texas — World and Olympic champion Simone Biles can start getting ready for Tokyo. Also six-time national champion Sam Mikulak.
After that, though, the picture is at best of who will make up the U.S. men’s and women’s Olympic gymnastics teams. And athletes who will try to take another step toward that goal at the US Championships this week know it.
“I think it’s somebody’s sport at the moment,” said three-time World Championships gold medalist and 2016 Olympic alternate Mykayla Skinner.
This is because it is.
Skinner, 24, thought she would be retired by now. Instead, she found herself training with Biles, 24, and world champion and Olympic silver medalist Chelsea Memmel, 32, at Dickies Arena on Wednesday.
Skinner said the three “old girls” are among 31 women in the field, the most for the US championships since 1995. The decision to push the Tokyo Games to 2021 allowed a wave of first-year seniors such as the 16-year-old. Sky Blakely to crash the party. It also opened the door for an unexpected comeback for Memel.
Throw in the lack of international assignments over the past 16 months – usually a good barometer of who serious Olympic contenders are – and it gives the nationals a far more precarious vibe than usual.
Skinner clearly remembers who she was competing against before the 2016 Rio Olympics. There was a crowd in the picture. With 2012 Olympic champion Gabby Douglas and three-time Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman also vying for a spot.
“Every workout, it was like, ‘I want to be there. I want to be on top. I want to be in the top four. I want to make that Olympic team,'” Skinner said. Of, you know, I think everyone is struggling with something.”
She’s not joking. Many women who used to join during the Olympic quad are still trying to regain their form due to injuries. Skinner battled COVID-19 and pneumonia over the winter. Sunissa Lee, a three-time World Championships medalist in 2019 and one of the best uneven bars on the planet, is attempting to grind her teeth through an ankle problem that has slowed her training. 2017 world champion Morgan Hurd has had multiple surgeries on her right elbow.
“It will be crazy to see how it all plays out,” Skinner said.
The US Classic last month marked the first major meeting for most high-profile Americans before the pandemic kicked off in March 2020. Even Biles was not protected from rust. When she performed the first Yurchenko double-pike vault drill performed by a woman in competition, she shortened her descents to exercise on the floor and came off the bars.
For Biles, though, everything awaits in Tokyo through the US Olympic trials later this month. She can pick up the slip here and there. Others are trying to connect with him, not so much.
“It’s also kind of nerve-wracking, because you don’t know where everyone else is,” Lee said. “A group of people have also been injured. So it is difficult to say who the team will be right now. And I think just a bunch of new seniors come in and like it’s a wide selection and it’s hard to tell because everyone is so nice. “
Or, in theory, they will be by the time the Americans – four team members, a specialist and a spot Jed Carey earned through his success in World Cup events – lands in Japan in July.
The issue is pretty much the same on the men’s side, where Mikulak figures to be a lock to reach his third Olympics, barring an injury. The 28-year-old, who is still searching for his first Olympic medal, insists he is not taking anything away.
“It’s kind of like I’m getting my life seniority vibes where everything is kind of nostalgic and I’m trying to appreciate it as much as I can, because I feel like I’ve appreciated it for so long. Not the way it should have been,” Mikulak said. “Because I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ll be back next year.’ I’m always just looking for next year. Now it’s like, ‘Oh, there’s not going to be next year.'”
2017 national champion and three-time world championships team member Yul Moldauer believes the Olympic delay has, in a way, leveled the playing field. With no recent history for the bank, everyone is starting out in a way.
“It gives hope to young people, it gives older people a chance to show up,” Moldauer said. “It’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be exciting. And I think it’s cool because we’re all so close together that it’s going to be the one that does well.”
A scheduling conflict with the Pan American Gymnastics Championships – being held in Brazil this week – forced USA Gymnastics to revise its selection process. Only the results of the Olympic Trials would be taken into account when putting the team together, unlike in 2016, when the combined results of the National and Trials served as the baseline.
That means this weekend will give men a chance to make a statement. or make mistakes. Or maybe both.
U.S. High-Performance Director Brett McClure said, “I expect a lot of nerves, even those still a little rusty, from people who haven’t competed for over a year. ” “And we’re going to roll the dice and see what happens. Quite exciting. It’s scary.”