The Olympics are the goal. Where do these Utah gymnasts stand?
MyKayla Skinner, Grace McCallum and Kara Eaker are Olympic hopefuls. With the U.S. Gymnastics Championships this weekend, here’s how they’ve performed in recent competition.
The trio of Utah gymnasts — Skinner competed for the Utes in 2017, ’18 and ’19, while Eaker and McCallum have both signed letters of intent and will join the Red Rocks for the 2022 season — were teammates on the gold medal-winning U.S. national team at the 2019 World Championships, and each has designs on representing the United States again, this time in Tokyo, Japan, in late July.
The latest step on their respective journeys is this weekend at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships inside Dickies Arena in Forth Worth, Texas.
Starting Friday and continuing Sunday — Friday’s competition will be televised on NBC Sports starting at 5:30 p.m., with Sunday’s action on NBC starting at 4:30 p.m. — the top gymnasts in the country will compete for a national championship.
With it being an Olympic year, though, the top eight finishers in the all-around at the championships also earn the right to compete at Olympic Trials, slated to take place June 24-27.
The only other way to earn a spot at trials, per USA gymnastics, is to either be added by the selection committee or to successfully petition for a spot, with either avenue being determined “based on (a gymnasts) ability to be competitive.”
Given that, while championships aren’t the first competitive meet of the year, they are the most important heading into Olympic Trials.
Where do Skinner, Eaker and McCallum stand before championships? Here’s the latest.
Eaker has competed twice this year, at the American Classic and GK U.S. Classic. She competed in the all-around both times and her moments.
At the American Classic, Eaker:
- Finished fifth in the all-around with a 52.700.
- Won the bronze medal on balance beam with a 14.100.
At the U.S. Classic, she:
- Finished ninth in the all-around with a 53.250.
- Won the bronze on beam again with a 14.100, behind only Simone Biles (14.850) and Leanne Wong (14.450).
In a Q&A with Inside Gymnastics in April, Eaker expressed confidence that she has matured as an athlete over the last year and is as prepared as she can be to make a run at the Olympics.
“As an athlete, I feel I have matured in my ability to recognize my capabilities,” Eaker told Christy Sandmaier. “I have always been a little shy and tend to hold back, but I am striving now not to be as introverted and to allow myself to get out of my comfort zone and be who I am.”
If Eaker is to make the U.S. Olympic team, it will likely be as a specialist on balance beam, where she is considered one of, if not the best workers in the world.
Like Eaker, McCallum has competed twice this year, at the American Classic and GK U.S. Classic.
At the American Classic, she competed on only one event — beam — where she:
- Finished in fourth place with a 13.900.
At the U.S. Classic, McCallum returned to the all-around and had one of the best performances by any gymnast. She:
- Won the all-around in the first session with a 55.100, a score that ultimately was the fourth-best, behind only Biles (58.400), Jordan Chiles (57.100) and Kayla DiCello (56.100).
- Scored a 14.400 on the vault, the fourth-best score on that apparatus.
- Was great again on beam with a 13.950 and finished with the best overall meet of any of the three Utah gymnasts.
McCallum broke her hand in January, as reported by Rachel Blount of the Star Tribune, and had subsequent surgery to repair a “boxer’s fracture she sustained while practicing a beam routine.”
According to Blount, “after doctors inserted a plate and seven screws to stabilize her broken left pinkie finger, McCallum endured an infection and a pulled muscle.”
McCallum didn’t start training on all four events until April 24, making her showing at the U.S. Classic all the more impressive.
“It was hard, because I was really in a good place going into this year,” McCallum told Blount. “But I think it taught me that things aren’t always going to go your way. Sometimes, you have to find your way through.”
Of the three Utah gymnasts, McCallum likely has the best chance of qualifying for the Olympic Trials via all-around score and as a multi-time member of the U.S. national team, she may be the best bet to make it to the Olympics.
Unlike Eaker and McCallum, Skinner did not compete at the American Classic in April. She made her competitive return at the U.S. Classic, after battling her way back from both injury and illness.
As recently detailed by Ashlee Buhler for Inside Gymnastics, Skinner contracted COVID-19, which subsequently morphed into pneumonia that required her to be hospitalized. Then, she was forced to battle the effects of a bone spur in her foot, an injury that aggravates her Achilles tendon and remains an ongoing issue, with surgery being needed down the line.
It’s been a struggle.
“It’s kind of sad because I’ve spent so much time working these upgrades and now, I won’t get to do them,” Skinner told Buhler. “Everything has just been a mess. I was like, ‘Oh yay, extra time.’ But my extra time has turned into getting hurt and getting sick. … But everyone is in the same boat. Tons of people couldn’t train because of COVID and a lot of people are struggling — so I’m not the only one.”
At the U.S. Classic, Skinner showed her resiliency, though. She:
- Finished 10th in the all-around with a 53.050.
- Won vault with a 14.700 (Biles only competed one vault and thus wasn’t eligible to win the event).
- Showed her potential on bars, beam and floor, despite significant mistakes on all three.
After the competition, Skinner wrote on Twitter, “After all that has happened this last year I’m just happy to be here!! Excited to clean everything up and add some upgrades for Championships. Watch out world, I still have some unfinished business.”
Skinner arguably has the toughest road to qualify for the Olympics, but does some of the most difficult gymnastics of any competitor. If things go right for her at trials, it’d be hard to keep her off the Olympic team.