ST. LOUIS — The U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials, starring Simone Biles, started Thursday at the Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis and will end Sunday, determining which American athletes will go to Tokyo next month for the Summer Games.
The Olympic teams will be announced at the end of each competition. Coverage began Thursday with Day 1 of the men’s competition. The men’s finals will be on NBC on Saturday at 4 p.m. Eastern time and on the Olympic Channel at 3 p.m.
Coverage of the women’s competition will start Friday at 8 p.m. on NBC and at 7:30 p.m. on the Olympic Channel. The finals will be televised on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. on NBC and at 8 p.m. on the Olympic Channel.
The events will also be streamed on the NBC Olympics website and on NBC’s Peacock platform.
How is the Olympic team chosen?
The selection process seems to change for every Olympics, and it’s never as simple as just choosing the top finishers at the trials.
For gymnastics, the number of athletes on each country’s team has been cut to four from five since the 2016 Games. The International Gymnastics Federation, the global governing body of the sport, said it made the reduction to open Olympic opportunities to more countries and to emphasize gymnasts who were good all-arounders, and not just specialists. But it has since realized the error of its ways: At the next Olympics, team sizes will return to five.
There is also a possibility for two gymnasts per country to qualify as individuals, meaning they can compete in all the events, but not in the team competition. The U.S. will have two of those individual spots for women, just one for men.
The U.S. selection process is different for the women, who won the team gold medal four years ago, and the men, who finished fifth in Rio de Janeiro.
Five of the six women’s spots are up for grabs at the trials. One has already been claimed by Jade Carey, of Phoenix, who qualified as an individual based on her strong finish in the World Cup series.
The top two finishers in the all-around will receive guaranteed spots on the four-woman team. A U.S.A. Gymnastics committee, headed by Tom Forster, the high-performance team coordinator, will choose the two other team members. To do that, Forster said, the committee would put the gymnasts’ scores into a computer program that will calculate who should produce the best scores in a team competition.
In the trials, only two men’s gymnasts will earn guaranteed Olympic berths. The first spot will go to the champion in the all-around. The other will be awarded to the second-place finisher in the all-around, but only if he also finishes in the top three in at least three of the six total events. The final three spots will be determined by a U.S.A. Gymnastics committee.
Here are the leading candidates.
The winner of four Olympic gold medals, Simone Biles is the stunning star of the sport, as well as one of the greatest athletes in history, and her face will be everywhere in NBC’s marketing of the Olympics. As it should be. Biles, 24, challenges the forces of gravity every time she steps onto the competition floor, with daring moves that turn into a blur because she executes them so quickly. She has had several moves named after her and is expected to become the first woman to repeat as the Olympic all-around champion in more than 50 years. Czechoslovakia’s Vera Caslavska was the last woman to do so, winning at the 1964 Games in Tokyo and the 1968 Games in Mexico City.
If any American woman but Biles might win an individual gold medal, it would be Sunisa Lee, a first-generation Hmong American from St. Paul, Minn. Her best event is the uneven bars, where she flies, twists and flips above and between the bars with ease, as if she is a kid playing on her backyard monkey bars. Her routine, though, is the hardest one in the world. She is a two-time national champion in the event, and she finished second behind Biles in the all-around competition at the national championships three weeks ago. Lee, 18, has said she is especially motivated to make the Olympic team and win a gold medal for her father, John Lee. He is paralyzed from the chest down after falling from a ladder in 2019, and he will be at the trials with the rest of Lee’s family to cheer for her.
Jordan Chiles briefly considered quitting gymnastics in 2018 but now is one of the favorites to make the Olympic team and join Biles, a regular training partner, in Tokyo. Chiles, 20, is from Vancouver, Wash., but she moved to Texas in 2019 to train at Biles’s gym, World Champions Centre. This year, she has been a model of consistency. Chiles won the all-around at the Winter Cup in February, finished second to Biles at the U.S. Classic in May and was third in the all-around at nationals. Of the 16 routines she has performed at those events, none has had a major mistake.
A six-time national champion in the all-around from Newport Beach, Calif., Sam Mikulak, 28, has been a staple of American gymnastics for nearly a decade. Before he retires at the end of this year, he would love to make his third Olympic team. At the 2012 London Games and at the 2016 Rio Games, he helped the U.S. men’s squad finish fifth in both team events. In Rio, he finished fourth in the high bar, just missing the medal stand.
A two-time N.C.A.A. champion in the all-around from Stanford, Brody Malone, 21, won the all-around at nationals and it’s looking more and more likely that he will grab the top guaranteed Olympic spot.
Who are other top contenders?
MyKayla Skinner is one of the old-timers trying to make this team. She is 24, married, and one of the few gymnasts in St. Louis who competed under the regime led by Martha Karolyi, the former national team coordinator. Skinner was an alternate on the 2016 team.
As a two-time gold medalist in the team event at the world championships, Grace McCallum, 18, would give the United States an experienced performer on the international stage.
Only 17, Kayla DiCello is the youngest of the competitors who have a realistic chance for a spot on the team. In 2019, she was the all-around, vault and floor exercise champion in the junior division.
Emma Malabuyo, 18, has struggled with injuries over the past several seasons, but is healthy and peaking at the right time. She finished fourth in the all-around at the national championships.
Riley McCusker, the silver medalist at nationals on the uneven bars, is a favorite to clinch the sole spot available to an athlete who will compete as an individual. She will turn 20 next month and is an uneven-bars expert who has fought back from an array of injuries.
Shane Wiskus, 22 and a two-time N.C.A.A. silver medalist in the all-around, made a huge comeback on Day 1 of the trials after a disappointing performance at nationals, where he fell three times during his high bar routine. Going into the final day of the men’s trials on Saturday, he is second in the all-around, proving his resilience.
Yul Moldauer has twice helped the U.S. men’s team finish fourth at the world championships and is the current national champion in parallel bars. Moldauer, 24, finished second in the all-around at nationals.
Each team gets up to five alternates. Why so many?
With the coronavirus pandemic a lingering issue, U.S.A. Gymnastics wants to make sure it has enough athletes to compete in case athletes test positive or are sidelined by contact tracing protocols. These athletes can step in if anyone on the main team is injured or ill.
What can we anticipate, or not, from Biles?
Expect Biles to perform her breathtaking Yurchenko double pike vault for just the second time in competition. The first time she landed the move was in May at the U.S. Classic, and videos of it went viral. No other woman has done the vault — which has two full flips in the pike position — and it’s unlikely that anyone else even tries it in training because it’s so difficult and dangerous. The move will be named after Biles if she lands it at the Olympics, and her coach, Cecile Landi, said Biles would perform it just once at the women’s trials. It remains uncertain whether that will be on Day 1 or Day 2.
At recent competitions, Biles has been wearing specially designed leotards with a rhinestone goat somewhere on each one. The center of her back. Above her right hip. High on her right shoulder. It has become the Where’s Waldo of gymnastics, and it represents G.O.A.T., or greatest of all time. Biles, the most decorated gymnast in history with 25 world championship medals and five Olympic medals, said she had started wearing the goat as a retort to her critics on social media. But the goat won’t be at the trials. Biles will be wearing the U.S. national team’s leotard, Landi said, and no goats, or any other specialized embellishments, will be allowed on it.