By Ashlee Buhler for Inside Gymnastics with Chris Korotky and Christy Sandmaier

18 women and 21 men will compete in St. Louis this week in hopes of solidifying their spots on the U.S. Olympic Team. Years of dreams, grit, countless hours of training, a global pandemic, and an absolute extreme determination to fulfill a lifelong goal have come down to this point. Who will head to Tokyo for Team USA? We break it down!

First, a “quick” reminder how the athletes can qualify for the team: On the women’s side, the top two gymnasts after the second day of competition will automatically earn their Olympic berth. The remaining two team spots, additional specialist spot, and up to five alternates will be announced by June 28.  On the men’s side, only the top ranked gymnast at the conclusion of Trials will automatically earn his berth. However, the second ranked gymnast also has an opportunity to secure his spot if he finishes in the top three on a minimum of three events. The remaining team members, an individual +1 athlete, and the alternates will be decided at the conclusion of the event. 

The Top 3

Simone Biles will have her status as a two-time Olympian solidified in St. Louis. Of course, it won’t be official until the competition is over, but there is absolutely no question about it! Biles hasn’t lost a competition since 2013 and in that time has racked up 25 World medals, five Olympic medals, and seven national titles.

The fight for the second automatic spot will have people on the edge of their seats.  It will likely come down to Jordan Chiles or Sunisa Lee, who have separated themselves from the rest of the field score-wise.

Chiles has been consistent across all four events and has proved herself every step of the way – taking home gold at the Winter Cup, silver at the U.S. Classic, and bronze at the U.S. Championships. Lee finished second to Biles in Fort Worth in addition to winning the uneven bar title, proving she is indeed ready for Tokyo, despite a recent ankle injury. If both gymnasts perform at their anticipated difficulty levels (based on what they have competed so far this season), Lee has a seventh tenth advantage on Chiles. However, both gymnasts have hinted at upgrades, including a four-pass routine on floor for Lee, rather than the three-pass routine she competed at Championships. To secure that second spot, it just may come down to who hits the most routines over the course of the two-day competition. 

The Fight For 4th

The roster of gymnasts right on the verge of realizing their Olympic dream is extensive and to us, the fight for the fourth spot is the most intriguing storyline heading into St. Louis. With the odds looking good for Biles, Chiles, and Lee, the remaining gymnasts will be fighting for one final spot on the four-person team and one individual spot (who will not be a part of the team competition in Tokyo and will instead fight for individual medals). All eyes will be on these athletes. With the clock ticking, their performances at Trials will make or break their chances. 

Two-time World team champion Grace McCallum knows what it’s like to compete on the big stage, but a hand injury that required surgery in January slowed her momentum and—up until this point—has prevented her from competing all of the upgrades she had planned, such as an Amanar and Cheng on vault. Consistency will be critical for McCallum to prove she is a reliable option for the team on vault and floor, as well as bars and beam if needed. She had a strong showing at Classics with a fourth-place All-Around finish, however, Championships did not go exactly as planned (seventh place All-Around). Will she rise to the occasion in St. Louis? If she does, the fourth spot could very well be hers.

Similar to McCallum, Kayla DiCello  had a strong showing at Classics, placing third All-Around. However, she struggled on bars and beam at Championships which left her 11th All-Around. DiCello has shown consistency on vault and floor but would be a worthy lineup option for the team on bars if she can put up more performances like she did at Classics (where she took home the title with a 14.150). A clean two-day performance at Trials would really bode well for DiCello, because when it comes to difficulty, she only has a slight edge over McCallum. With the two so akin, consistency will be the true test. One thing is for sure, don’t count DiCello out!

Leanne Wong is also in the mix. Her current start values are slightly lower than McCallum and DiCello’s, but if she can hit eight clean routines at Trials, it will be hard for the selection committee to overlook her. The execution on Wong’s Yurchenko double is among the best in the nation and her bars and beam have potential to be lineup worthy if she proves she can hit under pressure. Floor is also an event where Wong can contribute beautifully and her routine when she hits is absolutely a routine that belongs on the Olympic stage. At Championships, she performed cleanly and was the most consistent she has been with her landings all year, which helped her bring home the silver medal on the event.

Wong’s teammate at GAGE, Kara Eaker, is also in the conversation, however, her lower start value on vault and consistency challenges on floor make her chances for the individual spot more likely. Beam is where Eaker shines the most and has potential to bring home a medal in Tokyo as a specialist. A consistent showing at Trials could help make her case for why she deserves the opportunity.

Then there is Riley McCusker and Jade Carey. Carey has already mathematically clinched her Olympic spot as an individual and stated on Instagram that her intention is to take the spot once officially offered to her at the conclusion of the World Cup in Doha. The post ceased all conversation surrounding whether she would fight for a spot on the four-person team and give up her individual spot (which belongs to her and cannot be given to another gymnast). Carey still plans to participate at Trials and will use it as a tune up meet. And if we’re lucky, we just may see the triple twisting double layout she did in podium training at Championships. 

McCusker has long been a fan favorite for Tokyo, but the foot injury that occurred on vault during the U.S. Classics sidelined her on every event except for bars at Championships. She did her job in Fort Worth, winning the silver medal on the event, but needs a strong all-around performance to fight for the four-person team spot. McCusker at full strength is unquestionably one of the top gymnasts in the world and just may be the perfect piece to the team puzzle, but will she be ready? That’s the biggest question. If McCusker is not ready on the other three events, earning the specialist spot is a very strong possibility and just may earn her a ticket to Tokyo.

Mykayla Skinner’s Tokyo bid is a little more complex with athletes like Biles and Carey—who share similar strengths—already locked in. At the Games, only two gymnasts per country can qualify for finals on each event, so it’s important for Skinner to show her vault and floor are in the top two. Having a top four All-Around finish in St.Louis will keep her right in the conversation. She had been slowed in training by COVID and pneumonia earlier this year, but seems to be improving by the day and she just may hit her full stride at Trials. It’s also interesting and important to note that if you take the two-day average scores from Championships, Skinner falls into the fourth spot behind Biles, Lee and Chiles and ahead of Shilese Jones, DiCello and Wong in that order. Execution has always been Skinner’s biggest obstacle in getting the scores she needs, but she did an exceptional job at Championships, particularly on vault, finishing second to Simone Biles. For the Rio alternate, it’s going to be no small task to make the team —but definitely don’t count her out. If anyone is up for the challenge, she is, and what a storybook ending it would be.

Emma Malabuyo was the surprise in St. Louis and should not be counted out. She has been plagued with injuries throughout her career but has been on a steady climb back to top form on the competition floor. At Championships, Malabuyo made a bold statement with a fourth-place finish in the All-Around and posted scores on every event that without a doubt would be usable in a team final. It’s also worth noting that when high performance team coordinator Tom Forster was asked by the press who stood out after both the U.S. Classic and U.S. Championships, his answer was Emma Malabuyo both times.

The takeaway? Keep your eyes on Malabuyo in St. Louis. 

Showdown in St. Louis – Malone, Mikulak, Moldauer

For the men, it was Brody Malone who came away with the U.S. National title—the very first of his career. In doing so, Malone snapped six-time National All-Around champion Sam Mikulak’s winning streak. In St. Louis, the battle for first place—and more importantly—that automatic spot may come down to Malone and Mikulak once again. Mikulak did not perform up to his full capabilities at Championships and will seek redemption in St. Louis. But expect Malone, who has also won the last two NCAA national titles, to not go down without a fight. 

Yul Moldauer will be hot on their heels. Moldauer finished second in the All-Around at the U.S. Championships, first on parallel bars, and has proven his track record over the course of the quad. A team without Moldauer on it seems unlikely at this point, so the objective for Moldauer heading into Trials is just to remain calm, collected, fire up the crowd, and do his thing.

Completing The Puzzle

Lots of eyes will be on Shane Wiskus, who stood in second heading into the final rotation in Fort Worth, but slipped to ninth after a series of hard falls on the high bar. Bouncing back with a strong performance at Trials could not only serve as a confidence boost for Wiskus but will show the selection committee that he is ready to take on Tokyo. 

A name that has not consistently been in the conversation is Brandon Briones, but he certainly is now. Briones made a strong statement at the U.S. Championships, finishing fourth in the All-Around. After the first day of competition, he proved he can hold his own against the best of the best and was tied for second in the All-Around with Moldauer. The question is, can he deal with the Olympic Trials’ pressure and maintain that consistency?

Don’t forget about Paul Juda, who was not at the U.S. Championships because he was busy securing the +1 individual Olympic spot for the U.S. men at the Pan American Championships. Juda finished second All-Around, helped the team to a silver medal, and just may be peaking at the right time. There is also Allan Bower, who has plenty of experience as a World alternate and wants to flip the script. Bower finished fifth at Championships and just wants to prove to the selection committee at Trials that he can hit clean and consistent under pressure. 

Similar to the women’s field, there is a long list of athletes in contention for the specialist spot. Both Alec Yoder and Stephen Nedoroscik are top of the line of pommel horse. At Championships, Nedoroscik took the title on the event and Yoder was a close second. To intensify the situation, both have the same start value on the event (6.5), so hit routines and high execution scores at Trials will be critical. Yoder may have a slight advantage with more than one event that could benefit Team USA, but pommel horse is by far his specialty.

Gage Dyer would be an excellent option for floor and vault. At Championships, he finished second and third, respectively. He is also the reigning NCAA champion on the events. Dyer has tremendous difficulty (in fact, he is tied for the highest start values in the country with Sam Mikulak on floor and Khoi Young on vault) and can certainly challenge for a medal in Tokyo. Shear strength and power is what makes Donnell Whittenburg so great, especially when it comes to vault, floor, and rings. When it comes to the Tokyo Olympics, the biggest question is where Whittenburg fits the bill. Will he be needed on the four-person team or could his talents be used as a specialist in Tokyo?

Definitely don’t count out Cameron Bock, who was at Pam Ams with the U.S. Team during Championships. He may still be considered the new kid on the block, but he’s making a strong impression. Bock has had quite a bit of competitive experience this year between elite and college which may be an advantage. He surprised—and impressed—at the 2021 Winter Cup where he brought home the All-Around title as well as a bronze on pommel horse and still rings. Bock was also a key part of the Michigan Wolverines’ success this season and is ready to bring that energy and momentum to Team USA.

*And finally, there was some confusion when USAG released the national team list and Colin Van Wicklen was not listed because he had posted on social media that he was headed to Olympic Trials. Inside Gymnastics confirmed that Colin and his coach petitioned to Olympic Trials, but did not submit a petition to the national team. His petition to Trials was approved and USAG has the ability to add him to the National Team after Trials. Prior to U.S. Championships, Van Wicklen had been suffering from adrenal fatigue and also had made a gym change.

Will Van Wicklen be the comeback story for the men?

The battle has only just begun.

*Note: Eddie Penev has withdrawn due to injury.

With the Road to Tokyo rising to meet each of the journeys these athletes have taken, we remember that while dreams will be made and dashed in St. Louis, each of the competitors and the team that got them to this point have already won. To the athletes, we cannot wait to see it all play out and celebrate each one of your stories. 

Be sure to follow @InsideGym on social media and bookmark InsideGym.com to keep up to date with all the latest news and storylines from St. Louis!

For the Current Start Lists, Click Here!

(*For the list of athletes qualified for Trials per USA Gymnastics, click here!)

Schedule:

https://www.nbcolympics.com/schedule/sport/gymnastics

HOW TO WATCH

All times are Central.

  • June 24 – Men Day 1 – 5:30 p.m. – NBCSN
  • June 25 – Women Day 1 – 6:30 p.m. – Olympic Channel; 7:00 p.m. – NBC
  • June 26 – Men Day 2 – 2:00 p.m. – Olympic Channel; 3:00 p.m. – NBC
  • June 27 – Women Day 2 – 7:00 p.m. – Olympic Channel; 7:30 p.m. – NBC

All sessions will stream on NBCSports.com/live.

Photos by Lloyd Smith for Inside Gymnastics; Lead photo of Simone Biles by Ricardo Bufolin for Inside Gymnastics

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