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These Utah gymnasts are U.S. Olympians

Grace McCallum was named to the four-member team, along with Simone Biles, Sunisa Lee and Jordan Chiles, while MyKayla Skinner will represent the U.S. as an individual.

MyKayla Skinner competes on the beam during the women’s U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials.
MyKayla Skinner competes on the beam during the women’s U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials Sunday, June 27, 2021, in St. Louis. Skinner and fellow Utah gymnast Grace McCallum were both named Olympians Sunday night, along with Simone Biles, Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles and Jade Carey.
Jeff Roberson, Associated Press

In her three years at the University of Utah, MyKayla Skinner was nothing less than a superstar.

She won national championships as a collegiate gymnast, hit an unreal amount of routines and left everyone who watched her compete in awe. As now retired Utah gymnastics coach Megan Marsden said in April two years ago, “She is a freak of nature, unbelievably consistent and consistently unbelievable.”

It wasn’t enough for Skinner, though. Not after she had come so close to making the U.S women’s gymnastics team for the 2016 Olympics only to be named an alternate. That close call stayed with her, even as she dominated as a Red Rock, and motivated her to defer her final season at Utah in hopes of making the trip to Tokyo in 2020 as a member of Team USA.

“You work for it your whole entire life and when you don’t accomplish that goal, which you really want, in the back of your head you want to go out there and try again,” she said at the time. “And you want to make it this time. ... I love competing for the University of Utah, but 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.”

It may be coming a year later than originally expected, but Skinner’s dream has at long last come true.

Skinner was named to Team USA Sunday night at the conclusion of the 2021 U.S Olympic Trials, along with Simone Biles, Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles, incoming Utah gymnast Grace McCallum and Jade Carey.

Biles, Lee, Chiles and McCallum comprise the four member U.S. team, while Skinner and Carey will both go to Tokyo to compete as individuals (more on that in a bit).

The alternates include Kayla DiCello, incoming Utah gymnast Kara Eaker, Emma Malabuyo and Leanne Wong.

“I was definitely trying to have positive vibes,” Skinner said on NBC after walking out onto the floor with her new teammates. “When (Team USA head coach) Tom (Forster) came walking through the room I was like ‘Maybe the team, maybe the individual.’ I was hoping for one of the two and it finally happened. All my hard work paid off.”

As an individual competitor, Skinner will compete in the all-around competition the first day of qualification. She will be able to compete for medals on whatever events she finishes in the top 36 on (she has to be one of the two best American competitors on the events). As an individual competitor, she will not be a part of the team competition.

That doesn’t matter to Skinner, though, whose emotions understandably spilled over after a journey that has included hospitalization for pneumonia — a result of a COVID-19 infection — and a debilitating injury (a bone spur in her foot aggravates her Achilles tendon).

“It was super emotional,” she said, before calling out “Hey, mom! I made it!”

“It was so intense,” she added, “especially going back to 2016. Thank you to everyone. You’ve been amazing. I love you all.”

Skinner isn’t the only Red Rock headed to Tokyo. McCallum — who will make her Utah debut this winter, along with Eaker — earned the fourth and final position on the four-member U.S. team, thanks in part to a standout performance on the second day of the Olympic Trials Sunday that left her in fourth place behind only Biles, Lee and Chiles.

“It is amazing,” McCallum said. “I can’t thank my friends and family enough for all of their support throughout the years.”

A native of Isanti, Minnesota, McCallum made the U.S. National Team in both 2018 and 2019, and despite undergoing surgery earlier this year, kept getting better and better in the lead-up to and through the Olympic Trials.

Her consistent improvement played a role in her being named to the team despite Skinner actually being slightly ahead of her when it came to the computer models the selection committee used to pick which gymnasts were going to Tokyo.

“As a committee, we didn’t think it was worth changing the integrity of the process for a couple of tenths,” Forster explained. ‘It was a great competition. The athletes did amazing. Our goal was that the athletes would pick themselves. ... Between Grace and MyKayla there were tenths of a point between them at (U.S.) championships, and this weekend over the two-day period, Grace ended up in fourth, so that’s how we decided.”

McCallum and Eaker are part of arguably the greatest signing class in Utah gymnastics history. Utah head coach Tom Farden noted on the the day the duo signed their letters of intent, “It is a good day. It is a rarity for us. Unless I did the math wrong, we’ve never had two world champions from America in the same recruiting class.

“We’ve had world champions before, MyKayla and Ashley (Postell), but they were the singular person in their class. This is a very special recruiting class. Couldn’t be more proud of a group effort in getting these athletes, these world champions, to commit.”

Now that McCallum has made the U.S. Olympic team, those sentiments ring as true as ever.

Eaker, for her part, will fill the role of alternate. In the case of a major illness or injury to any of the six primary athletes prior to the Olympic Games, she could be called upon.

“It was a nervous, butterfly feeling,” she said, describing the ordeal of waiting to hear the team named. “This means so much to me.”

At the close of competition Sunday, no one knew for sure which gymnasts would be named to the team aside from Biles and Lee, who were guaranteed qualifiers as a result of finishing as the top two competitors.

McCallum had arguably the best second day of Olympic Trials of anyone not named Biles, Lee and Chiles, though, including great performances on vault and bars.

Eaker too had her moments, especially on beam, her strongest event by far.

It is was Skinner, though, who induced the largest cheers, not to mention a few tears, as she performed her final event.