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MyKayla Skinner gets the storybook ending, wins Olympic silver medal

Skinner finished in second place in the individual vault finals in the Tokyo Olympics, ending her gymnastics career as an Olympic medalist

Mykayla Skinner of the United States, performs on the vault during the artistic gymnastics women’s apparatus final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan.
Ashley Landis, AP

Seven days ago, MyKayla Skinner was completely heartbroken — even more than heartbroken — that her competitive gymnastics career had ended without her having had a chance to compete for an Olympic medal.

Competitive to her core, missing out on the chance to compete for a medal was gut-wrenching for Skinner, even as being an Olympian was a dream come true.

“Heartbroken is an understatement,” Skinner wrote on Instagram at the time. “... I would have loved for my scores to count for the team and I would have loved to compete in event final.”

A week later, she is an Olympic silver medalist.

The former University of Utah star finished in second place in the individual vault finals Sunday morning in Tokyo, behind only Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade, closing out her gymnastics career in storybook fashion.

“To make this comeback and be kind of one in a million to make this, it’s so cool to show age is just a number and that anything is possible if you work hard and dream for it,” Skinner told USA Today. “I’m so honored I never gave up.”

Filling in for teammate and friend Simone Biles in the vault finals — Biles withdrew from the event late Friday night — Skinner had a nearly flawless performance.

Competing two vaults, Skinner recorded her highest score of the Games on her first and most difficult vault, the Cheng, earning a 15.033. On her second vault, an Amanar, she scored a 14.8, good for an average vault score of 14.916.

Only Andrade scored better by competition’s end, and just barely, earning a 15.166 on her Cheng and a 15.00 on her Amanar for an average score of 15.083.

South Korea’s Yeo Seo-jeong won the bronze medal with an average score of 14.733 (she also had the night’s best overall vault, scoring a 15.333).

Skinner was unable to contain her joy on the podium following the competition, her smile radiating out from under her face mask. Before even stepping on the podium she shaked with excitement as she waited to hear her name called.

It was understandable. The medal win capped off a career replete with ups and downs — Skinner has said on multiple occasions that gymnastics “hasn’t been kind to me over the years” — including but not certainly not limited to:

  • Failing to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials.
  • Being named an alternate on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team.
  • Being named a 2021 U.S Olympian, but not making the four-woman team.
  • Failing to qualify for event finals in the qualification round at the Games, as a result of the two-per country rule.

As excited as Skinner was to win the silver medal, her teammates were just as exuberant after her win.

All-around gold medalist Sunisa Lee, who competed later in the uneven bars final, wrote on Twitter, “YESSS SO PROUD OF MY GRANDMA OMG.”

Of Biles’ support — Skinner had promised to compete for her — Skinner noted, “I’m not used to seeing her in the stands. It was seriously cool to see her love and support and cheering us on. I knew she was going to be the loudest one in there. She’s been so awesome the last couple of days. I’m like how are you so strong? I’d be in my room bawling every night.”

Emotions ran high for the other medalists as well. Andrade won the first ever gold medal in women’s artistic gymnastics for Brazil at the Olympics, while Seo-jeong followed in her father’s footsteps after he won bronze at the 1996 Games.

Coming into the competition, Jade Carey, Skinner’s teammate and fellow Arizonan, was expected to medal — Carey was arguably the gold medal favorite — but she stumbled on her first vault and was unable to recover after that, finishing in last place in the eight woman competition.

“It was just a fluke thing,” Skinner said. “As she was running, I saw her trip right before the roundoff. She couldn’t continue the vault because she could have gotten hurt. She was so disappointed. We should have both been on the podium. I was trying to help her stay positive, you have to forget about this. You have more finals, you’re going to give it your all and place. She totally can. She made me cry because that’s so horrible to have to go through something like that when you’ve made it this far. I know she’s very devastated right now.”

Carey’s miscue left the 24-year old Skinner as the Americans one and only chance to earn a medal on vault, and she delivered, something Utah fans grew used to in Skinner’s three seasons up on the hill.

“YOU DID IT!” former U.S Olympian Dominique Moceanu wrote. “MyKayla Skinner is an Olympic Silver Medalist everyone!”

With the career-ending finish she’d always wanted and just hadn’t been quite able to pull off. Until now.