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Halfway through Olympic Trials, the United States women's gymnastics team for Tokyo 2020 appears to be more than halfway set.
Simone Biles, of course, will make it. Biles soared on Friday night in St. Louis, as she always does.
Jade Carey, a 21-year-old from Phoenix who excels on vault and floor, has officially clinched a spot as well.
And Friday, the first night of trials, seemed to confirm what previous 2021 meets had already made clear: Sunisa Lee and Jordan Chiles will join them in Tokyo. Four of six spots are all but locked up.
The fifth and six selections, though — which will be made Sunday night, after the final session at trials — will be the products of a complex qualifying process and a competition structure that might lead USA Gymnastics to pick an athlete who isn't one of the nation's six best all-around gymnasts.
How will USA Gymnastics select the team?
The U.S. will take six female gymnasts to Tokyo. Four will compete for team gold, and also for individual medals. The other two will only compete as individuals.
The four team spots will go to the top two all-around finishers at trials and two others chosen by a USA Gymnastics committee. The two individual spots will go to Carey, who mathematically qualified last year, and another gymnast of the committee's choosing.
The roster, in 48 hours, will look like this:
1st at Trials
2nd at Trials
Committee selection — team
Committee selection — team
Committee selection — individual
Who will definitely make the team at trials?
Biles will almost certainly finish first. If she doesn't, barring a significant injury, she'll be chosen by the committee anyway. She led the all-around by almost three full points after Friday. Her score: 60.565.
The top contenders for the second spot are Lee, an 18-year-old from Minnesota, and Chiles, a 20-year-old who trains with Biles in Texas. They were second and third, respectively, after Friday, Lee at 57.666, Chiles at 57.132.
Lee is the only woman not named Biles who's the best American in an individual event. She wowed the crowd in St. Louis with her bars routine on Friday, scoring a 15.300, better than Biles' 14.600 and Chiles' 14.300 — both of which were also impressive. Lee won the event at U.S. championships earlier this month, and won a bronze medal in it as a 16-year-old at worlds in 2019. She's also a world silver medalist on floor, and is brilliant on beam, making her the second-best all-arounder in the U.S.
Chiles, who thought about quitting gymnastics in 2018, is right alongside Lee, peaking at the perfect time. Named after Michael Jordan and nicknamed "Chick," she's the ideal third member of a four-woman team, raising the proverbial floor on each of the four apparatuses. She finished no worse than fourth on each at U.S. championships, and was fourth on all except floor Friday night, good for third-place in the all-around.
And then there's Carey, who would have been in contention for the fourth team spot, but instead chose to accept the individual spot she'd long ago clinched. She could contend for a medal on vault and floor in Tokyo.
Who is on the bubble?
In one sense, the final two spots are there for the taking at trials. But in the end, they're in the hands of the selection committee. The selection committee's goal is to maximize the U.S. medal count. And two factors complicate the committee's thinking:
In the team competition, only the top three of four on each apparatus compete in the final.
In individual competitions — the all-around and the four single-apparatus events — only two gymnasts from each country can qualify for the final and compete for a medal.
The last individual spot, therefore, must go to a gymnast with a legitimate shot of being among the two best Americans in an event. Biles is inevitably one of two on vault, floor and beam. The biggest opening, then, is on bars — and that happens to be where Riley McCusker stars. She was second on bars Friday night, behind Lee, ahead of Biles. She's the favorite for the second individual spot.
Similarly, the fourth and final team spot won't necessarily go to the fourth-best all-around gymnast. It could. But it also could be used to fortify weaknesses among the other three team members. Biles and Chiles can contribute on all four apparatuses. Lee, however, has been strongest on bars and beam, and weaker on floor and vault, especially as she recovers from an ankle injury. So the fourth spot could be given to the fourth-best all-arounder, or to a floor and/or vault specialist.
Either way, it could go to Grace McCallum, an 18-year-old from Minnesota, who will head into Sunday's trials finale in fifth place in the all-around with a 56.498. McCallum was second on floor Friday night, more than a full point behind Biles, but ahead of Chiles, Lee, and the other competitors for the fourth team spot.
Kayla DiCello, a 17-year-old from Maryland, is also in the mix based on her floor prowess. She was third on floor Friday with a 13.966, behind McCallum's 14.166 (and Biles' 15.366). She stands sixth in the all-around.
The final contender is MyKayla Skinner, 24, the oldest woman at trials, the only one who's married, and Friday night's biggest winner. Skinner finished fourth in the all-around at 2016 trials, but was named an Olympic alternate. She went to college, then returned to the elite scene for another run at the Olympics. And she was superb Friday, placing fourth in the all-around (56.598) and third on vault (15.133) — behind only Biles and Carey.
With one night to go, McCallum and Skinner are the favorites. Each could contribute to the team score in Tokyo on vault and floor. But plenty could change over two-plus hours on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, Olympic Channel; 8:30 NBC).
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