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

The showdown for the women starts tonight in St. Louis.

18 women will compete 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: 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. We’ve been told by USA Gymnastics staff since arriving in St. Louis that the team will be announced on Sunday evening.

Coverage begins at 7:3opm ET on the Olympic Channel and kicks over to NBC at 8pm ET.

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 Fort Worth 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. For her, and so many athletes here, the journey here is everything and the reward already accomplished.

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

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