Biles to lead diverse U.S. women’s gymnastics team to Tokyo Olympics

Reuters | 7/1/2021, 6 p.m.
Simone Biles’ Olympic encore is finally here.
Members of the U.S. Women’s Olympic Gymnastic Team and alternates celebrate Sunday after the women’s U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials in St. Louis. Photo by Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

ST. LOUIS, MO - Simone Biles’ Olympic encore is finally here.

The reigning world and Olympic gymnastics champion locked up her spot to Tokyo by easily winning the U.S. Olympic Trials on Sunday night. The 24-year-old’s two-day total of 118.098 earned her one of two automatic spots on the plane to the Summer Olympics in Japan next month, where she will try to become the first female gymnast in more than 50 years to win consecutive all-around Olympic gold medals.

Sunisa Lee, 18, a Hmong American, also grabbed the other automatic bid with a 115.832 while posting the top scores on beam and uneven bars and actually putting up a higher all-around score than Biles on the night.

Jordan Chiles, 20, a Black gymnast who hasn’t fallen in 24 routines in 2021, something even Biles can’t say, also earned a spot on Team USA and will be heading to Tokyo two years after it appeared her elite career might be in jeopardy.

Grace McCallum, 18, rounds out the four-woman team after coming in fourth during the trials.

MyKayla Skinner, an alternate in 2016, will go as a specialist. The 24-year-old will be a threat to medal on vault.

Kayla DiCello, Kara Eaker and Leanne Wong, all of whom are Asian American, and Emma Malabuyo, who is Filipino American; will serve as the alternates.

Biles’ teammates will have a front row spot to what promises to be one of the biggest spectacles in the Olympic games.

Biles will arrive in Tokyo as the face of her sport, the U.S. delegation and perhaps the Olympic movement. By simple accounting, Biles already is one of the all-time greats. She has become more than just a gymnastics star since her big win at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Her 25 world championship medals, 19 of which are gold, are more than any other male or female gymnast.

She performs gravity-defying skills that no other gymnast can come close to executing — and all pulled off with jaw-dropping power and grace.

Her consistent excellence — her last second place finish in a meet came more than nine years ago — combined with her charisma and her possibility-pushing routines have thrust her into the company of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, athletes whose dominance on the world stage have made them Olympic icons.

Even Biles appears to have come to terms with her status as the GOAT—Greatest Of All Time—as she competed at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships with a sequined goat stenciled onto her leotard.

She has been accorded the ultimate honor of having an element named after her—not just one but four—one on vault, one on balance beam and two on floor exercise.

Biles was so far ahead of the pack at the recent U.S. Gymnastics Championships that she did not even need to pull out her show stoppers like the Yurchenko double-pike vault—which she is the only woman to land in competition—to secure a record seventh all-around title.

Sports fans around the globe stop to watch when she does her thing. And after a difficult time grappling with the postponement of the Tokyo Games to 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Biles appears better than ever.

Well, most of the time.

Biles was spectacular at the trials last Friday in St. Louis. Not so much — at least by her remarkable standards — in front of a crowd of well over 20,000 inside The Dome at America’s Center that roared every time she stepped on the podium.

She nearly stalled out on her uneven bar routine and her balance beam set was a battle from the second she began her wolf turn early in her set. Biles reached down to grab the 4-inch slab of wood at one point and shortly thereafter hopped off in dis- gust. She drilled her “double-double” dismount — the one named after her — before trudging to her seat in tears. Her floor routine included a big hop out of bounds after her “triple-double” opening pass. Not that anyone noticed. She walked off to a standing ovation even as she gave Coach Laurent Landi a somewhat exhausted-looking smile.

She has three weeks to fume and perfect in her bid to make history.

Biles earned five medals – four of them gold—in Rio de Janeiro. She could do the same in Tokyo. She needs three to move past Shannon Miller as the most decorated U.S. gymnast, while four would give her a combined 34 world and Olympic medals that would surpass the record of 33 held by Russia’s Vitaly Scherbo.

Lee also has a chance to come home with a fistful of hardware, too. The Minnesota native is a wonder on the uneven bars, one of a handful of gymnasts on the planet who can out-Biles Biles on the event. Her series of intricate connections — all done with a fluidity and grace that makes it look effortless — are among the most difficult in the sport. Lee dealt with an Achilles injury that led her to a sluggish start to the 2021 competition season.

Jade Carey, 21, of Phoenix also has an Olympic berth locked up after earning a nominative post based on her World Cup performances. Carey will compete as an individual, meaning she will not be a part of the team competition.

The Olympic stage is set for Biles, but whether she will use it for more than winning medals is uncertain.

Biles has spoken out about sexual abuse and supported the Black Lives Matter movement. And when the world’s media get their opportunity in Tokyo, questions about the trauma inflicted on hundreds of young gymnasts, including Biles, by former Team USA doctor Larry Nassar will be inevitable.

“I don’t know how any athlete prepares themselves to talk about something so heavy. However, it is the situation we are in now,” Laurie Hernandez, Biles’ teammate in Rio told Reuters.

“It is quite the job to multitask and to have to deal with these things and it makes things harder. However, it is who we are and what we are trained to do.”