Will these Utah gymnasts compete in the Olympics? It all comes down to this weekend
MyKayla Skinner, Grace McCallum and Kara Eaker will compete at the 2021 Olympic trials for the chance to represent the U.S. in Tokyo
For as long as they surely can remember, MyKayla Skinner, Grace McCallum and Kara Eaker have worked for this moment. Competing in the Olympics is the dream of nearly every elite gymnast, superseding everything else, really.
“You work for it your whole entire life,” Skinner told the Deseret News two years ago when she made the decision to defer her final season of collegiate gymnastics in pursuit of an Olympic berth. “... I have always thought about the Olympics. I’d like to try and compete for my country. I see the opportunity to pursue an Olympic berth as a chance of a lifetime.”
For Skinner, McCallum and Eaker — past and future gymnasts at the University of Utah — that chance of a lifetime could become a reality this weekend at the 2021 U.S. Olympic trials.
The trio is among a field of 18 gymnasts who will compete for a total of five spots on Team USA for the Tokyo Olympics (a sixth spot has already been clinched. More on that in a bit).
The competition kicks off Friday night inside The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, Missouri, continuing on Sunday.
How do the Olympic trials work?
Much like the U.S. Gymnastics Championships that took place earlier this month, the Olympic trials are a two-day competition. The results are determined from the cumulative scores across both days. The gymnasts will rotate to each of the four events in one of two groups.
- On Day 1, Skinner and Eaker will begin the competition on vault and continue to uneven bars and balance beam, before finishing on floor exercise.
- McCallum, meanwhile, will be rotating with competition favorites like Simone Biles, Jordan Chiles (a future UCLA Bruin) and Sunisa Lee (a future Auburn Tiger), and will start on bars, before moving onto beam, floor and vault.
The order of each rotation for Day 1 can be found here.
What does the Olympic team look like?
For the Tokyo Olympics, there will be a four-member U.S. team, as well as two individual competitors.
One of those individual spots has already been clinched by future Oregon State Beaver Jade Carey. Through the Apparatus World Cup series, she mathematically clinched an Olympic berth as an individual. There was question as to whether or not she would accept that individual spot, and instead maybe take a chance at making the four-member team, but last week in an Instagram post she committed to going to the Olympics as an individual.
“I’m really excited to be heading to St. Louis next week,” Carey wrote. “I have every intention to accept the individual spot that I worked very hard to earn by competing in the Apparatus World Cup Series spanning from 2018-2020 when officially offered to me. My focus right now is preparing to compete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo and being able to contribute to Team USA in any way possible. Thank you for your continued support.”
What does it mean to be an individual competitor? While Carey will represent the U.S., she will not take part in any of the team competition and can only win medals based on her own individual performance on each event.
How is the Olympic team selected?
The top two finishers after the two days of the Olympic trials guarantee themselves spots on the four-member team. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
After that, a selection committee will determine the other two team members and the final individual competitor. Those decisions will be based not only on gymnasts’ performances at the Olympic trials, but at the U.S. championships also. The difficulty of routines, as well as gymnasts’ execution and consistency over the last few months of competition, including the U.S. and American classics, will factor in as well.
The gymnasts who will represent the U.S. at the Olympics will be announced Sunday night at the conclusion of the Olympic trials.
What are the Utes’ chances?
This is where things get interesting. Skinner, McCallum and Eaker were all on the U.S. national team for the 2019 World Championships, a competition the Americans won. Skinner was an alternate, while McCallum and Eaker both competed.
Heading into the Olympic trials, though, none of the three are seen as favorites to make it to the Olympics. It doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t, they just aren’t favored to.
Biles, Chiles and Lee are viewed across the sport as far and away the best three American gymnasts currently, with the expectation that all three will make the four-member team. Biles, considered by nearly all observers as the greatest gymnast of all time, is a favorite to win gold medals on vault, floor and in the all-around, while Lee is considered the best bars worker in the world. Chiles, for her part, is excellent on floor and vault, though not in Biles’ territory.
The final team spot could come down to which gymnast outside of those three is the best in the all-around at the trials. With only four members on the team, the ability to compete in the all-around has gained greater importance than in past Olympics.
McCallum would seem to have as good a shot as any gymnast in that respect. She finished seventh in the all-around at the U.S. championships, with a great deal of improvement possible on bars and floor.
Skinner, too, could be in the running for the final team spot. She finished ninth at the U.S. championships, but her Day 2 was better than most and she has room to get better on floor, beam and bars.
As for the final individual spot, no one really knows what type of gymnast the selection committee will choose. It could be a specialist, like Skinner on vault, Eaker on beam or Riley McCusker on bars, or it could be another all-arounder. The latter option could benefit either McCallum or Skinner (Eaker’s all-around scores just don’t have the high end potential at this point), but gymnasts like Kayla DeCello or Skye Blakely could just as easily secure a berth in the Olympics.