MyKayla Skinner knew her best chance to compete for a medal at the Tokyo Olympics was going to come on vault.
Vault was USA Gymnastics’ stated reason as to why she was named an Olympian, and Skinner is, inarguably, one of the best vaulters in the world.
So early Sunday morning, following the completion of her two vaults during Olympic qualification, Skinner sat uneasily on the floor at Ariake Arena in Tokyo waiting to see if she’d done enough.
After fellow U.S. gymnast Jade Carey nailed her first vault, Skinner’s dream of competing for a medal was in serious danger, and when Carey did just as well on her second vault, Skinner’s medaling dream came crashing down.
In that moment, Skinner couldn’t control her emotions, not completely, and tears welled up in her eyes for the world to see. Barring something completely unexpected, her gymnastics career was over. Simone Biles and Carey would advance to the vault event final and Skinner would not.
Standing alone while waiting to move on to the next event — uneven bars — Skinner was simply devastated. That was when her teammate Grace McCallum, an incoming gymnast at the University of Utah, provided one of the more touching moments of the the Olympics thus far.
McCallum, who had her own gymnastics to think about, approached Skinner and gave her multiple hugs in an effort to comfort her, saying repeatedly, “It’s going to be okay.”
Following their exchange, Skinner would go on to have one of the best meets of her career, earning praise from countless gymnastics insiders for her resilience in the face of bitter disappointment.
Throughout the competition, McCallum, a member of the four-woman U.S. team, was often the first American gymnast to greet her teammates following their routines, showing support and enthusiasm.
After the Olympic trials in late June, McCallum described Skinner as being the American gymnast who was there for everyone on the team, noting, “It’s really nice to have MyKayla as part of the team. She makes you feel not so homesick. She’s so friendly and caring, and makes sure you feel comfortable. She’s the mom of the group. She makes you feel safe. I’m really excited she’s on the team.”
On Sunday, she returned the favor.