Opinion: Competition tightens up for last spots on U.S. gymnastics team for Tokyo Olympics

ST. LOUIS — Hard a job as the selection committee has, the U.S. women are making it even harder.

The top contenders for the five available spots – and, let’s be honest, it’s really only four because, you know, Simone Biles – played a game of, “Can you top this?” on Friday night in the first day of competition at the U.S. Olympic trials. Only the top two after Sunday’s meet get automatic spots – and, again, one of those is going to be Biles – on the Tokyo team, with the selection committee picking the remaining two, as well as one gymnast for an individual spot.

Sunisa Lee and Jordan Chiles, who separated themselves from the rest of the pack at the national championships three weeks ago, did nothing to weaken their front-runner status. Quite the opposite, in fact.

They were second and third, respectively, behind Biles, just as they were at the national championships three weeks ago. Lee was even leading Biles midway through the meet, thanks to a monster uneven bars routine that could win her a gold medal in Tokyo.

Bright lights. Big stage. SUNI LEE. 🙌 @sunisalee_ x #GymTrials21pic.twitter.com/eA03GKJ64X

Lee appears to float from one skill right into another and, easy as she makes connecting those elements look, it’s incredibly difficult. And explains why her score, a 15.3, is so high.

Lee also had the second-best score on beam, while Chiles was fourth on that event, uneven bars and vault. When you are trying to build a team that will ensure you three big scores on each event in the team finals, that kind of consistent excellence is critical.

But the real intrigue is who will get that fourth spot on the team. And it’s still very much up for grabs, with just .300 points separating the athletes in fourth through sixth places. 

MyKayla Skinner, who wants nothing more than to shed her title of perennial alternate, made a case for herself by finishing fourth overall. Skinner missed a significant amount of training early in the year after having COVID, and even a few weeks ago was still trying to regain her form, but she is clearly peaking at the right time.

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