- The Team USA gymnastics squad heading to this summer’s Tokyo Olympics is beginning to take shape.
- Jordan Chiles and Sunisa Lee look poised to join Simone Biles as part of the four-person team event.
- Jade Carey has already punched her ticket to Japan, though her role with the team remains uncertain.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Simone Biles is all but certainly heading to this summer’s Olympics.
But the 2021 USA Gymnastics squad that’ll accompany her to the games is still up in the air.
With the US Gymnastics Championships behind us and the US Olympic trials on the horizon, we’re finally starting to get a clearer picture of who will join Biles in Tokyo.
But before we discuss the field and the top contenders vying for the few highly-coveted spots on Team USA, let’s outline the structure of the team and how the selection process works.
4 gymnasts will head to Tokyo to represent Team USA in the Olympics team competition
Marking a significant shift from the five-woman squads that have been wildly popular at past Olympics – like the US’ Fierce Five and Final Five – new rules dictate that each country can only select four gymnasts to compete in the games’ team competition.
That quartet will be eligible to participate in individual events as well as the team all-around.
Those four athletes will earn their spots on the Olympic squad through US Olympic trials, which are scheduled for June 24-27 in St. Louis. The first and second-place finishers will secure an automatic bid to Tokyo.
Considering Biles has not lost a single all-around competition since she became a senior elite gymnast in 2013, she’ll almost certainly chart her path to this summer’s games via that top slot.
The athlete selection committee will hand pick gymnasts to fill the remaining two spots on the all-around team.
Using the results from the US Gymnastics Championships as well as the US Olympic trials scores as their basis, the committee members will weigh a number of criteria to build the team.
These include experience, consistency, team needs, and more, with the aim of building a complementary group with the greatest chance of winning gold in the team competition, according to the USA Gymnastics Athlete Selection Procedures.
In other words, the committee will look to strategically select another two gymnasts who best fill in the gaps left by the top two US Olympic trial finishers. It also means that the committee won’t necessarily select the next-best all-around finishers from trials.
Here’s an example: should Biles secure one of the automatic bids, the committee will prioritize a top uneven bars performer to compensate for Biles’ (relative) weakness in that event.
If the third or fourth-place finisher at Olympic trials is also weak on the uneven bars, they could potentially get passed over for a gymnast who is stronger on that front.
Here’s where it gets tricky – a maximum of 2 additional gymnasts will represent the US in individual events
In addition to those initial four athletes, the US will have a maximum of two extra spots available to individuals whose scores will not contribute to the team all-around competition.
The USA Gymnastics Athlete Selection Procedures state that the committee will chose which gymnasts fill these slots “based on the goal of maximizing medal potential in individual event competition.”
While these two athletes are technically eligible to compete in the individual all-around event, the committee is unlikely to prioritize a balanced star given Biles’ dominance in every all-around competition she’s ever partaken in.
It follows, then, that these USA Gymnastics competitors will likely be specialists in specific events – i.e. vault, floor, balance beam, or uneven bars.
One such gymnast has already punched her ticket to Japan.
Jade Carey – a 21-year-old Phoenix native – clinched one of the US’ two individual slots for the Tokyo Olympics back in April 2020. By skipping the World Championships in 2018, Carey was able to qualify via her stellar performances at four World Cup competitions between 2018 and 2019.
A member of the US team that won gold at the 2019 World Championships, Carey is best known for her brilliance on vault – the event in which she’s earned two silver medals at Worlds.
She’s also won World Championship silver and Pan American Championship gold on the floor exercise, making her something of a specialist in both events.
As NBC’s Alex Azzi recently noted, Carey’s strategic path to an Olympics slot “made sense” when she and her dad first birthed the plan “given that she wasn’t a particularly strong all-arounder” at the time. But Carey has improved her standing on the balance beam and uneven bars since then, and even finished 11th and eighth, respectively, at this year’s US Gymnastics Championships.
For this reason, Carey is still expected to compete at the upcoming US Olympic trials despite already securing an individual spot.
According to her father and coach, Brian Carey, Jade will use trials “to show that she’s ready” for a spot on the four-person squad competing in the team event in Tokyo, NBC Sports reported in April 2020.
So who’s headed to Tokyo on behalf of USA Gymnastics?
The short answer is we don’t know yet.
The longer answer is that the results from the 2021 US Gymnastics Championships give us a clue as to how things may shake out at US Olympic trials.
Assuming Biles takes gold at US Olympic trials – and that’s a pretty safe assumption given her undefeated status in all-around events – the rest of the field will be competing in St. Louis for the lone remaining guaranteed spot at the Tokyo games.
Based on recent performances, that spot will likely go to one of two apparent frontrunners: Sunisa Lee and Jordan Chiles.
Lee, an 18-year-old St. Paul, Minnesota native took second place behind Biles in the US Championships all-around in early June. She earned a silver medal on the balance beam and finished fifth on the floor exercise, but Lee shined brightest on the uneven bars, where she won gold by a nearly half-point margin.
Her strengths on beam and bars compensate well for Biles’ (again, relative) weaknesses, while her weaknesses on floor and vault perfectly complement Biles’ strengths – making Lee an extra compelling candidate for USA Gymnastics regardless of whether she clinches an automatic bid at Olympic trials.
Chiles – who finished exactly half a point behind Lee to take third in the all-around at the US Championships – is much more comparable to Biles in her overall consistency.
The similarities don’t end there. Recognizing her potential to emulate the four-time Olympic gold medalist, Chiles moved across the country from her hometown of Vancouver, Washington, to train at Biles’ World Champions Centre gym in Spring, Texas, a few years back.
The 20-year-old finished top-five in every individual event at the 2021 US Championships. In addition to her third place all-around finish, Chiles took bronze on the vault as well as fourth on the balance beam, uneven bars, and floor exercise.
Considering the team all-around final at the Olympics will require three out of the four chosen gymnasts to participate in each event, Chiles’ universal skillset would make her a valuable addition to the group.
The final spot on the 4-woman all-around team is the most competitive of all
With Lee and Chiles emerging as favorites to join Biles as the leading gymnasts selected to represent the US in Japan, a large field of contenders remain for both the remaining slot on the all-around team and the two additional individual spots.
Towards the top of the list to fill that final spot is 18-year-old Emma Malabuyo.
She just missed the podium at US Championships, finishing four points behind Chiles to take fourth place in the all-around. Malabuyo, like Biles and Chiles, is fairly consistent across her events – she finished sixth on beam and seventh on floor and bars.
Vault stands out as a weak point in her repertoire, as she placed 18th in the event.
That could be a problem for the US in Olympic team competition; Biles and Chiles both made the podium on vault, but Lee finished in 13th. Assuming those three are selected to the team, Malabuyo’s addition would leave the US vulnerable in that event.
While, Biles’ dominance on vault could very well compensate for that issue, there are other contenders who pose less risk on that front. Leanne Wong, who finished a slim 0.30 of a point behind Malabuyo to place fifth in the all-around at US Championships, is one such option.
Wong finished fourth in the vault exercise at the US Championships while making the podium on the floor, finishing third. And the 17-year-old still holds her own in the other events, albeit not as consistently as Malabuyo – she placed 10th on beam and 15th on the bars.
Wong appears to be the strongest complement to a Biles-Lee-Chiles core. With her on the team, the US would boast three of the top-five finishers at the US Championships in every individual event.
Still, there are other gymnasts contending for both the final team spot and the other two spots reserved for athletes competing exclusively in the individual events.
Carey – who, as mentioned above, already secured her individual bid – is still striving for the team competition.
But here’s where it gets complicated – again.
Should Carey qualify for and accept a position on the four-person team, the US would be forced to renounce one of its two individual slots; the selection committee would not be allowed to fill her vacant spot.
It’s unlikely that the decision-makers for Team USA would voluntarily put themselves in the position to forgo an additional competitor in Tokyo. So if Carey has any realistic shot at competing for the team, she’ll likely have to qualify by finishing first or second in the all-around at Olympic trials. She finished sixth overall at the US Championships, so an automatic bid isn’t entirely out of the question – but it would be a considerable upset nonetheless.
Other possibilities for that final team slot are 18-year-old Grace McCallum and 16-year-old Skye Blakely – who tied for seventh in the US Championships all-around. Additionally, 24-year-old MyKayla Skinner, 18-year-old Kara Eaker, and 17-year-old Kayla DiCello – ninth, 10th, and 11th place, respectively – will all be in contention.
Notably, all five of those gymnasts were within 0.75 of a point of one another at US Championships, making the choice between them all the more difficult.
Many of the quintet will be in the conversation for the remaining individual spot, too. As mentioned previously, the selection committee will likely prioritize a specialist here. Skinner fits the bill as the second-place finisher on the vault at US Championships, as does 19-year-old Riley McCusker, who finished second on the uneven bars.
Ultimately, it will all come down to US Olympic trials
With razor-thin margins between most competitors to this point, the powers that be at USA Gymnastics are likely to rely heavily upon the results from US Olympic trials. Unless catastrophe strikes, Biles will take the top spot. Lee and Chiles are likely to finish somewhere close – but not too close – behind her.
The rest is really anyone’s guess.
The final sprint for a spot in the Olympics will take place at The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis.
Viewers can tune in to NBC on June 25 at 8 p.m. ET and June 27 at 8:30 p.m. ET to watch the drama unfold and decide for themselves who deserves those highly-coveted tickets to Tokyo.