Simone Biles and the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team Have an Off Day (For Them)

Simone Biles and the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team Have an Off Day (For Them)

Simone Biles and the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team Have an Off Day (For Them)

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

TOKYO — Simone Biles rolled her eyes. She shrugged her shoulders. She scrunched up her face and winced.

One look at her revealed all that you needed to know about how the U.S. women’s team fared on Sunday during qualifying at the Tokyo Games. And none of it was good for the team that had dominated the sport for more than a decade.

With uncharacteristic mistakes, including many by Biles, the best gymnast in history, the United States team finished behind Russia in qualifying It wasn’t close, either, with more than a point difference between the countries.

Biles’s Scores Tumble

During the 2016 Games, Simone Biles showed the world why she was considered the world’s best gymnast. In Tokyo, she showed she was human, scoring fewer points on each apparatus than she did five years ago.

Her qualification

scores in

Her qualification scores in

By The New York Times

The Americans can still come back on Tuesday in the final to win the gold medal because the slate is wiped clean for that event. In that competition, the U.S. will try to keep its winning streak alive. The team has not lost a world championship or an Olympics team event since 2010, and is trying to win its third straight Olympic gold medal.

“This might be a great awakening for us, and we’ll take advantage of it,” Tom Forster, the women’s national team coordinator, said after congratulating Russia for its performance. He said the Russians edged the Americans because they were “cleaner and had more depth,” and that the U.S. team made mental mistakes because of nerves.

With Tuesday’s team final expected to be a battle, possibly decided by a slim margin, Forster defended the rationale he used to choose the Olympic team of four gymnasts. At first, he had said he and the selection committee would use computer modeling to calculate which gymnasts’ scores from nationals and trials would put them in best position to win the team event in Tokyo.

But when the trials ended, Forster and the selection committee simply picked the top four overall finishers in the all-around, even though the fifth place finisher, MyKayla Skinner, had shown high scores in the vault, where the Americans needed help. Grace McCallum, who was fourth at trials, was picked instead.

“As a committee, we didn’t think it was worth changing the integrity of the process for a couple of tenths,” Forster said at the time.

As it turns out, the U.S. team might need those tenths after all. Skinner ended up finishing higher in the overall on Sunday than McCallum, by 0.233 points. Forster said that in retrospect he wouldn’t have changed his team roster and that he still feels good about it.

“I just want to reemphasize that anybody out there who complained that U.S.A. Gymnastics only thought about medals, that was not the point,” said Forster, who took over as head of the national team after the Lawrence G. Nassar sexual abuse scandal roiled the sport. Nassar, the longtime national team doctor, molested hundreds of girls and women — including Biles and many of her former teammates — under the guise of medical treatment.

“My job is to provide a culture and an environment that allows athletes to do their best and hope that their best is medal-worthy,” Forster said.

While the U.S. team is still medal-worthy, on Sunday it strayed far from its usual dominance, with Biles making error after surprising error even as the team looked relaxed and casual on the arena floor, with no fans in the stands because of Covid-19 restrictions.

On the floor exercise, Biles flew so far out of bounds on one tumbling pass that she slid right off the competition surface. On her first vault, a half-twist onto the vault into a front layout with one and a half twists, she stepped off the mat on her landing. Her day ended on the balance beam, where she took one giant step and several smaller ones on her dismount. It was a flawed way to end Day 1 of her Olympics, but she laughed and pulled at the front of her leotard afterward, looking as if she had made meaningless mistakes in a meaningless practice.

Disappointing Dismount

It was a rare day of mistakes for Simone Biles, including on her beam routine, where she took several steps to gain control after her dismount.

Photographs by Bedel Saget/The New York Times; composite image by Jeremy White

In quotes provided by the Olympic News Service, Biles said the U.S. team needed to work on “little things.”

“I feel we did a pretty good job,” she said, adding that the team is “striving for top three” in the team final.

Forster said that Olympic jitters caused the problems for Biles and for many others on the team, and felt especially sad for Jordan Chiles, who is Biles’s teammate and had been a model of consistency all year. Chiles finished 40th in the all-around and ended her day in tears after her balance beam routine. She had fallen twice, once during an acrobatic series and again on her dismount.

Chiles, Biles and the rest of the U.S. team did not stop to talk to the group of reporters waiting for them after their event, leaving Forster to speak for them about their individual performances and the team’s overall subpar day.

“That’s what it is sometimes,” Forster said, referring specifically to Chiles. “Just like in any other sport, great athletes drop the ball in the end zone or a quarterback throws an interception.”

While the team’s overall performance was relatively poor, Biles and Sunisa Lee, who performed a stunning uneven bars routine, still finished high enough in the all-around to qualify for the final later in the week. Biles finished first in the all-around. Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade was second, just ahead of Lee.

For now, though, Forster only spoke to reporters about the team final. And even then, he didn’t speak much at all. After about 7 minutes, he brusquely said, “I’m done.” And walked off.

The most emotional moment in this arena today is all for Oksana Chusovitina, 46 of Uzbekistan, after her vault in her eighth Games. In a counterintuitive, yet still quite poignant way, the lack of fans emphasizes the earnest respect and admiration she clearly has from her fellow athletes and those with deep enough ties to the gymnastics world to be here right now. They’re, standing, cheering and angling for photos to wish her a fond farewell.

Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland, the bronze medalist on vault in 2016, is in sixth place in the vault qualifications, accounting for the two-per-country rule. There are still some vault final contenders to come in the last subdivision, but she has a very good chance of making the final.

Oksana Chusovitina, wearing a green leotard with a No. 8 on the front to symbolize her eighth Olympic appearance, poses for photos with competitors after getting the loudest ovation of the day during qualifications.
Credit…Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After Oksana Chusovitina, a gymnast competing for Uzbekistan, finished her practice session last week here at the Tokyo Games, gymnast after gymnast lined up to pose with her for a selfie. She is royalty in the sport.

Chusovitina is 46 — that’s not a typo — and has been at or near the top of her sport for three decades. Her son, Alisher, is 22, in college and older than many gymnasts in Tokyo.

This is her eighth Olympics, an astonishing streak in a sport geared for younger bodies. But she has shown that longevity and excellence is possible. At 33, she won a silver medal in the vault, her current specialty, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At 43, she finished fourth at the 2018 world championships in the vault. She said these days she trains about three hours a day and takes Sundays off all together.

Though Chusovitina has hinted at retirement for years, she said these Olympics would, in fact, be her last. She wants to spend time with her family, including her husband, who competed at the Olympics in Greco-Roman wrestling.

“I think it’s time now, really,” she said. “I want to be a mom and a wife.”

The most emotional moment in the arena was all for Chusovitina after she finished her competition on vault. In a counterintuitive, yet still quite poignant way, the lack of fans emphasized the earnest respect and admiration she clearly had from her fellow athletes and those with deep enough ties to the gymnastics world to be present for the competition. They were standing, cheering and angling for photos to wish her a fond farewell. She averaged 14.166 on her two vault attempts, a score not high enough to move on to next week’s final.

Chusovitina has represented several countries and entities at the Olympics, including the Soviet Union, the Unified Team and Germany. Her first Games were in 1992 with the Soviets, where she won a gold medal in the team event. Since then, she has won 11 medals at 17 world championships, and has had five moves named after her because she was the first to perform them at a world championship or Olympics.

On Saturday, Aly Raisman, a three-time Olympic gold medalist for the United States, posted a video on Twitter of Chusovitina performing a vault at the 1992 Olympics, two years before Raisman was born. She called Chusovitina “forever an icon.”

Oskar Garcia contributed reporting.

With a 14.400 on the uneven bars, Roxana Popa of Spain has moved into contention for the apparatus final. Taking into account the two-per-country rule, she would be the seventh qualifier, and eight will get in.

We’re three-fifths of the way through the women’s gymnastics qualifications, the powerhouse countries have finished competing, and the landscape is not exactly what one might have expected.

The biggest surprise is that the United States is in second place in the team competition, 1.067 points behind Russia.

Many factors contributed to that.

Jordan Chiles had an highly uncharacteristically weak performance for the United States, after not making a major mistake in a single competitive routine all year.

Simone Biles also had some errors. She flew out of bounds during the floor exercise and, in something only Biles could do, had far too much power on one of the most difficult beam dismounts in the world, causing her to stumble backward.

There was also — most importantly — an exceptional performance from the Russian gymnasts.

The U.S. will still easily qualify to the team final and will start with a clean slate there, because qualifications scores don’t carry over. If Biles and Chiles do what they’re capable of in the final, the United States is still the favorite to win. But today showed clearly that the U.S. no longer has the sort of “we can make mistakes and still win” buffer that it once did. The Americans are beatable.

With five countries left to compete — Belgium, Canada, France, Germany and Spain — the team rankings are as follows: Russia, the United States, China, Britain, Italy, Japan, and the Netherlands. The top eight teams will qualify to the final.

As for the individual finals, the rule that only two gymnasts per country can qualify has claimed quite a few victims already. Viktoria Listunova of Russia, the reigning European all-around champion, will not compete in the all-around final despite currently being in fifth place among all gymnasts. Likewise for Jade Carey, MyKayla Skinner and Grace McCallum of the United States, all of whom finished in the top 10.

The U.S.’s all-around qualifiers will be Biles and Lee, Russia’s will be Angelina Melnikova and Vladislava Urazova, and China’s will be Tang Xijing and Lu Yufei. Despite the worse-than-usual performance of the U.S. team, Biles and Lee are ranked first and second in the all-around, ahead of the Russian gymnasts.

Listunova is also guaranteed to miss the bars finals because of the two-per-country rule, as is Urazova. Meanwhile, Skinner is guaranteed to miss the vault final, even though she is ranked third among all gymnasts there so far.

The subdivision is still young, but one notable performance so far came from Shallon Olsen of Canada, who is sitting in fourth place in the vault standings. (The top eight gymnasts, taking into account the two-per-country rule, will qualify to the vault final.)

Another Canadian, Ellie Black, is just within the qualification zone for vault at the moment, but there are several vault contenders still to come, so that may not hold.

Russia has outscored the U.S. in qualifications by more than a point. These scores don’t carry over to the team final — both teams will start with a blank slate — but this is a big deal.

That being said, the U.S.’s two all-around qualifiers, Biles and Lee, both outscored the best Russian gymnast.

The fourth subdivision, which is happening now, features Canada, France, Spain and five individual gymnasts from countries that didn’t qualify full teams to the Olympics.

One of the individual gymnasts is Oksana Chusovitina, a 46-year-old from Uzbekistan who is competing in her eighth Olympics. She began her career competing for the Soviet Union, her son is older than many of her competitors here, and she has a legitimate shot to qualify for the vault final.

This was a really heartbreaking day for MyKayla Skinner, who didn’t qualify to the vault or floor finals. But she landed one of the most difficult beam dismounts in the world, smiled and waved to the crowd after finishing what is probably the last routine of her elite career.

If Skinner had been on the U.S. team, her scores would have counted on every apparatus.

Jade Carey was in position to possibly upset Lee after three rotations, but she couldn’t quite get there on beam. She will most likely finish third among the Americans.

Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee will be the U.S.’s two qualifiers to the all-around.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Simone Biles will be honest with you. She gets nervous before her balance beam routine. It’s the one event where she’s had the most problems.

She lost her balance and had to jump off the beam at the Olympic trials last month, and later said she was upset that she hadn’t lived up to the expectations of her fans.

At the last Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, she also didn’t dominate on the balance beam like she does on the floor and vault. In event finals, she ended up third and it still irks her. People always focus on her four gold medals from Rio, she said, but never mention that bronze medal, as if it never even happened.

Going into these Olympics, she had a not-so-secret weapon: her crazy-hard dismount. It was a double twisting double back somersault, and after she landed it in 2019, it was named after her.

She didn’t use that dismount on Sunday. Instead, she performed a full twisting double back somersault and over-rotated it, stumbling out of the landing to receive an underwhelming 14.066 points. A relatively bad day for the U.S. team, which was expected to dominate.

I can’t help but wonder if the lack of a crowd is affecting the gymnasts today. Of course, we’ll never know, but there was a record-breaking, roaring crowd at the Olympic trials a month ago in St. Louis.

The U.S. women look so loose and relaxed as they transition to their last event, the balance beam. If Martha Karolyi saw this, she might just pass out. She never liked the gymnasts to have any fun.

Simone Biles over-rotated her full-twisting double back dismount, taking several steps back. It’s wild to have enough power to do that, but that’s not going to soften the deductions at all.

Jordan Chiles scored only a 12.866 on the bars and then ended the day with two falls on beam, one on an acrobatic series and another on her dismount.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

One question on many gymnastics fans’ minds was how well Jordan Chiles would fare in qualifications: Would she move on to the all-around or event finals, or would she be shut out because of gymnastics’ two-per-country rule?

It wasn’t her afternoon. Chiles, 20, scored only a 12.866 on the bars and then ended the day with two falls on beam, one on an acrobatic series and another on her dismount. That left her behind the top two Americans on every event.

Still, she’ll almost certainly head home with a medal in the team final, where the United States will be aiming to deliver a much stronger showing.

A month ago, Chiles was the third-ranked all-arounder at the Olympic Trials, behind Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee. She is generally a well-rounded and consistent gymnast, and she was the only U.S. team member who made no major mistakes in any of the four major domestic competitions this year. That means she did 24 routines and hit all of them.

Chiles, though, had a rocky route to the Olympics, frequently missing out on major international competitions and almost quitting in 2018 because, she said, “I didn’t think the sport wanted me anymore.”

Then Biles offered a suggestion: Why didn’t Chiles relocate to Texas to train with Biles at her gym, World Champions Centre? Chiles heeded that advice.

Perhaps no gymnast benefited as much from the postponement of the Games as Chiles did: She went from being left off the 2019 world championships team to doing so well in 2021 that she was pretty much a lock for Tokyo before the trials even started.

A 14.200 for Suni Lee on beam puts her in third place on that apparatus, all but guaranteeing her a spot in the beam final.

On the sidelines, Biles seems to be trying to comfort Chiles, who is looking devastated after a rough beam routine.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

No one in the world does an uneven bars routine as complex as Sunisa Lee’s, and she needs a mind-blowing amount of precision to perform it without smacking the bars by mistake and falling — or just falling because she missed grabbing the bars after a release move.

She looks effortless as she flies up and over the bars, and from bar to bar, and part of the beauty of her routine is how she easily she connects her difficult skills to make them flow together.

And for her skill on this event, Lee is a favorite to win the gold medal. It’s the one medal at these Tokyo Games that Simone Biles is not expected to win.

On Sunday, she warned her competition that it would be hard to beat her. She scored 15.2 points for her routine, the highest score so far on the event at these Olympics.

Lee is inching closer to winning a gold medal for her father, John Lee, who is her biggest fan. In 2019, he sustained a spinal cord injury in a fall from a ladder just a day before Sunisa Lee left for the national championships. With her incredible ability to focus, she won the national title in the uneven bars at that event. Now she wants to succeed on the biggest stage.

Suni Lee is capable of competing a bars routine with a difficulty score of 6.8, the highest in the world. She also has a tried-and-true backup routine worth 6.6 if she misses a particular connection that she’s sometimes inconsistent on. Today she did the 6.6 routine — but she’s still the best so far on bars today by more than two-tenths.

The vocals you hear in Eythora Thorsdottir’s floor exercise are her own. Limited vocals are allowed in floor music.

The Dutch have a distinct and beautiful style on floor — very balletic. They tend to build up their difficulty with complex pirouettes and combinations rather than the most difficult tumbling, but don’t be fooled — those pirouettes are extremely hard.

Sanne Wevers, the Olympic champion on the balance beam at the 2016 Rio Games, is in 10th and on the bubble of making the final in her signature event. Sanne, 29, and her twin sister, Lieke, have had a rough go of it here in Tokyo. A week before leaving for Japan, they learned that their coach and father, Vincent Wevers, would not travel to the Olympics with them. He is at the center of an ongoing inquiry by his former gymnasts that he mistreated them.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Everyone in the sport has been talking about when Simone Biles will attempt her breathtaking Yurchenko double pike vault at the Olympics. Turns out, it wasn’t during qualifying. And even without it, she did well enough to slide into first place on the vault after her turn.

Instead, Biles did two vaults that are somewhat common for top gymnasts. The first was a Cheng, which is a half-twist onto the vault, into a front layout with one and a half twists. She took a huge step on the landing, right off the mat and rolled her eyes afterward.

Her second vault was an Amanar, which is a back handspring onto the vault into a back layout with two and a half twists.

She is now in first place in the vault with a score of 15.183 points, with Jade Carey of the United States right behind her, in second.

Biles wants to perform the double pike during these Games so it can be yet another skill named after her. But there’s a risk in trying it, considering the margin of error is whisker-thin. She does a round-off back handspring onto the vaulting table and pushes off it with her hands, launching her 4-feet-8 body high enough into the air to complete two full back flips in a folded position before landing on her feet.

Other gymnasts are amazed that she has both the guts and the physical ability to land the move, and even she is amazed at herself. Before the pandemic, Biles never thought she would ever try the Yurchenko double pike in competition. But the extra training time she was given after the Olympics postponement was what she needed to hone the vault and feel comfortable with it.

Even now, though, there is a chance of disaster. If she fails to flip fast enough and land squarely on her feet, she risks breaking her already sore ankles or sustaining a neck or head injury. The other scary part of the vault, which only a handful of men can do successfully, is that once she is flipping in the air, she can’t bail out of it. She wouldn’t be able to stop her momentum.

She showed off the vault in public for the first time during the practice session for the U.S. Classic in May, and then landed it in that competition. The judges, though, lowballed her difficulty score, meaning she wasn’t given credit for the risk she had taken. Later, she said she wasn’t going to argue it because she didn’t want to seem like a brat, but that she’d continue pushing the sport forward whether her scores reflected her greatness or not.

Maggie Astor contributed reporting.

MyKayla Skinner had hoped to make an event final, but her vaults — a Cheng and an Amanar, just like Simone Biles — weren’t her best efforts. Jade Carey nearly stuck her Amanar, finishing barely behind Simone Biles. That means Biles and Carey are the top two Americans on vault, and Skinner’s Olympic competition will end today.

Skinner’s two-vault average puts her in second place so far today, behind Biles.

It might be hard to see just how high Simone Biles flies into the air when she vaults. But check out how far she travels, compared to where other gymnasts land. Sometimes it’s double the distance.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Several months ago, MyKayla Skinner was hospitalized for pneumonia after contracting the coronavirus. Now, her long career — in both elite and college gymnastics — is ending at the Tokyo Games.

Skinner, like Jade Carey, wasn’t part of the team competition. A superstar for the University of Utah, she earned her Olympic berth when U.S.A. Gymnastics chose her for the individual spot the United States earned at the 2019 world championships, so her scores did not count toward the team total.

That essentially meant she had two chances to move on to medal events, vault and floor exercise. On vault, she is among the best in the world.

But only two gymnasts per country advance to a final, and Skinner, 24, fell short. She performed two complicated vaults — a Cheng and an Amanar, just like Simone Biles and Carey. Her Cheng had some form issues, and the landing of her Amanar lacked the control she showed just weeks ago at the trials, one of the best meets of her life.

Skinner averaged a total score of 14.866. (Any gymnast seeking a vault medal must perform two different skills, whose scores are totaled.) Carey simply had a better night, basically nailing her Amanar and qualifying with a 15.166 average — just behind Biles’s 15.183.

Skinner’s other strong event, floor, went relatively well. But while she has difficult tumbling, she sees deductions for execution. On Sunday, Skinner tied Chiles on the event with a 13.566, and, like on vault, Biles and Carey finished ahead of her.

Skinner’s good day here will have some fans continuing to question U.S.A. Gymnastics’ decision to name Grace McCallum to the team instead of Skinner — though it is worth noting that all of McCallum’s scores were needed today. Still, Skinner outscored at least one member of the four-person team on every event, and the Americans ended their competition trailing the Russians by more than a point.

If an American is too hurt to compete in a final, Skinner could take her place.

It’s also worth noting that Skinner improved her execution on all four events since being named an Olympic alternate in 2016 — one of many results she made clear she disagreed with. After those Games, she enrolled at Utah, where she amassed a litany of gymnastics achievements, including the N.C.A.A. record for consecutive routines without a fall (161). She returned to elite competition in 2019.

Skinner recently announced that she would retire after Tokyo and complete her college degree. The past year has been trying: She has also been nursing a bone spur in her ankle. “My body definitely needs a rest,” she wrote on Instagram.

The U.S. women are, for now, No. 2 and No. 3 in the floor exercise standings. Jade Carey and Simone Biles will likely make the event final next week.

MyKayla Skinner and Jordan Chiles are guaranteed to miss the floor final because of the two-per-country rule, as well as their scores.

MyKayla Skinner starts her floor routine with an incredibly difficult double-twisting double layout, which is called a Moors after the Canadian gymnast Victoria Moors.

It looks like Russia will outscore the United States on floor.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Simone Biles usually owns the floor exercise. She has been great in the event ever since she was very young, back when some people mistakenly thought she would end up to be a specialist on the floor and the vault — and never an all-arounder. Those naysayers are probably hiding in a corner now.

At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, Biles’s signature move on the floor was a double layout with a half-twist and a blind landing, now officially known as “The Biles.” It was the first skill named after her because she was the first one to do it at the world championships or Olympics.

Since then, she has added “The Biles II” to her floor repertoire, and that’s a triple-twisting double-tucked backward somersault that you need to see in slow motion to count the flips and twists. It looks like she is being tossed around inside the eye of a hurricane. But in the end, like a cat, she somehow lands on her feet. In gymnastics, that quality is called air awareness and it’s one of Biles’s many athletic gifts.

She also has been working on her choreography since the last Olympics. In an effort to “spice it up,” she enlisted professional dancer Sasha Farber to help. He was her partner on “Dancing with the Stars,” and together they finished fourth in that TV competition. Here, though, Biles wants a gold medal, not a glittery mirrorball trophy.

She just performed both of her Biles moves, and landed both of them. But her third tumbling pass, a full twisting double back somersault, gave her trouble. While she landed it with both feet, her momentum caused her to fly out of bounds and even off the beige raised competition floor. It was one of her worst floor performances of the year, and even with her wildly difficult moves she received a score of 14.133.

The score placed her in second place so far, just behind Vanessa Ferrari of Italy, who has 14.166 points. The top eight finishers at the end of the day qualify for the event final next week.

Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands fell on the uneven bars. She has the ability to do a layout Hindorff, during which she stretches out her body over the high bar, then does a half-turn to hang in a mixed L-grip. The very complicated skill would have been named for her had she tried it here. Still, her strongest event, beam, is to come.

Larisa Iordache hit most of her beam routine, with just a wobble on a very difficult back handspring to back flip with a full twist, but then stumbled on the dismount and is clearly in pain. We knew she had an ankle injury coming into this, but this is awful to see.

No one on the U.S. team, not even Simone Biles, has been as solid and consistent as Jordan Chiles has this year. She’s the gymnast the U.S. can count on.

Great floor routine by Sunisa Lee, who could win silver to Simone Biles in the all-around. She’s the most graceful dancer on this year’s team and makes every move look so easy.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Grace McCallum’s coach, Sarah Jantzi, is here and while you may not recognize her, she has played a huge role in the sport in the last six years. She was the coach who was the whistleblower in the Lawrence G. Nassar sexual abuse case.

Grace McCallum goes WAY out of bounds on her first tumbling pass, but not a surprise for a first-time Olympian. Lots of adrenaline and nerves!

Needless to say, the main attraction in this subdivision — the third of five — is the United States. But also here are the Dutch team (led by Sanne Wevers, the reigning Olympic champion on the balance beam) and 11 individual gymnasts from countries that didn’t qualify full teams for the Games. They include Filipa Martins of Portugal, who’s strong on bars, and Larisa Iordache of Romania, who is hoping to qualify for the beam final.

Some context for folks who perhaps woke up to watch the United States, or will watch only the Americans in the qualification. As we head into the third subdivision, the Russians are leading the competition with a total score of 171.629 and the top all-around score (57.132) currently belongs to Russia’s Angelina Melnikova. For perspective, in the most recent world championships, the Americans qualified to the team event with a score of 174.205.

Biles attempts maneuvers that are so difficult, she can fall and still win a competition.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Yes, but also no.

Simone Biles does gymnastics that are so difficult, she can fall and still win a competition. Look for her at some point in the competition to launch a powerful Yurchenko double pike vault — which will be named for her if she completes it during the Games — and throw a double tuck with three twists on floor. She is the only woman to have landed these skills in competition.

A squad without Biles would almost certainly score lower yet still win gold. Spencer Barnes, a host of the gymnastics podcast Gymcastic, has estimated that the Americans could count up to four falls and still beat a “hit” meet from all of the other teams.

The Americans have won the team event in every Olympics and world championship since 2011.

Jade Carey during the U.S. Olympic trials in June.
Credit…Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

The American gymnast Jade Carey might — we’re hedging here because it would be risky — debut a floor exercise skill that even Simone Biles has not attempted in competition: a triple-twisting double layout. It would be the hardest tumbling pass ever performed by a woman.

The boundary-pushing skill would see Carey launch herself into a roundoff and a series of back handsprings before two back flips and three twists. It is similar to Biles’s incredible triple-double on floor exercise, but whereas Biles tucks her knees into her chest, Carey increases the difficulty by keeping her body straight. While practicing at the recent U.S. championships, Carey landed the pass as her father and coach, Brian Carey, spotted her. The NBC commentator Tim Daggett noted that Biles “walked by and said congrats and that’s crazy.”

At podium training on Thursday, Carey played it safe, instead performing a still-tough Moors (a double-twisting double layout). She followed that with a powerful front layout through to a tucked double-double.

If she lands the triple-double layout in either the qualification or the floor exercise final — if she moves on to that event — the skill will be named for her.

Carey, 21, is also capable of winning a medal on vault; she placed second on the event at the 2017 and 2019 world championships. Like MyKayla Skinner, her fellow Arizonan, she is not part of the team competition. She secured her spot at the Olympics through the multiyear World Cup series.

At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, a penalty like that actually cost the United States the bronze medal in the team competition. The U.S. received a 0.5-point deduction because an alternate, Rhonda Faehn, was standing on the platform while Kelly Garrison competed on the uneven bars. (Faehn had moved a springboard away, which she was allowed to do, but then she didn’t step off the platform as required.) East Germany ended up winning the bronze by 0.3 points.

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