The US women’s gymnastics team qualified for the team final on Tuesday the Tokyo Olympics In Second place with more than one point behind the team of the Russian Olympic Committee. The good news: if you pin the steps out of bounds and have uncharacteristic broken shapes on bars and falls off the beam, you have the routines to win.
That real drama however, during the qualification on Sunday the competition took place within the US team. Due to the so-called “two-per” rule, a maximum of two gymnasts from each country can qualify for the all-around and event finals that take place later in the games. Only 24 gymnasts reach the all-around finals and the best eight on each device reach the tournament finals.
To underline the drama: if a US gymnast becomes the third best in the world in qualifying – but also the third best in the US – she misses it. (Who can forget that the reigning all-around world champion Jordyn Wieber missed the 2012 Olympic all-around final after he had reached fourth place in the world in qualifying behind teammates Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas?)
Simone Biles’ teammates knew that before the meeting on Sunday she would likely lock one of the two US places in the all-round and all four event finals. She did that. The only doubt was the uneven bars, which at first looked like it missed them.
Although the Russian Olympic Committee has qualified its two first-placed winners for the final, the two-per-country rule means that the athletes who finished fifth and sixth on the uneven bars cannot compete. This ensured that Biles, who finished 10th overall but second among the US athletes, had a place in the finals.
So who has secured the remaining single places for the USA?
On the way to the games it seemed like Suni Lee and Jordan Chiles were battling for second place behind Biles like they did all season. But Chiles, a stone in US citizenship and exams, suffered a major break in shape on the parallel bars, fell off the bar and finished sixth of the six American gymnasts. Lee underpinned her trial performance and will fight for the Olympic title alongside Biles, who will try to become the first gymnast since Věra áslavská to repeat as an Olympic all-around champion in 1968.
The US women are piled on floor exercise, and second place was open to everyone. But it was the individual qualifier Jade Carey who made it to the floor final and let the fans know there was more to come. Carey submitted a new skill she plans to debut in Tokyo, a triple-twisting-double layout, but she saved it Sunday night. If she participates in the skill it will bear her name and get the highest difficulty score in artistic gymnastics for men and women.
When MyKayla Skinner, a vault specialist, was selected in the plus-one spot for the U.S., the biggest question was whether she shot Carey, another vault powerhouse that rivals the same two safes as Skinner, for a medal . Carey finished the race three-tenths of a point ahead of Skinner and just 0.017 behind Biles, who failed to show off her much-hyped Yurchenko double pike and chose to save it for the team final or all-around. As for Skinner, her Olympic competition ended on Sunday night as she is not a member of the US team of four and has not qualified for an individual event.
Suni Lee’s uneven bars routine might be the only one as much talked about as Biles’ groundbreaking vault. And it lived up to the hype on Sunday evening. Lee was the only athlete who cracked a score in the 15s and finished first in the US in the final next Sunday; Biles joins her on the two-for-one rule.
For the second time on Sunday night, Lee was the best US female athlete, finishing .0134 ahead of Biles, who took three steps from her full exit.
A total of three US athletes – Biles, Lee and Carey – qualified for the fight for individual medals.