STUTTGART, Germany — Jade Carey, like many teens, was inspired by the 2012 Fierce Five, the first U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team to take gold since the Magnificent Seven. If everything works out, Carey will qualify for gymnastics events in Tokyo, but not necessarily the team competition.
Carey, competing with the U.S. team at the world championships this week, is well on her way to becoming an Olympian just like her role models.
But the path the 19-year-old is taking is different. It’s an individual one.
Carey can clinch an Olympic spot for herself as early as March, three months before a selection committee chooses gymnasts for the traditional Olympic team.
“I knew I would be giving up being on the team,” Carey said, “but I think, for me, it made sense to just go for it.”
Carey chose a new qualification route introduced for this Olympic cycle. The International Gymnastics Federation changed Olympic team event roster sizes from five gymnasts to four for Tokyo 2020, but also added other ways for individual gymnasts to qualify outside of the team.
Those individuals can compete on every apparatus at the Tokyo Olympics, but not the team competition. Carey said there’s a bit of regret if she misses out on a team gold, which is almost guaranteed these days. The U.S. has won every Olympic and world team title since 2011.
She got her likely one and only experience competing in a global team event last Tuesday, helping the U.S. earn a fifth straight world title with strong performances on vault and floor exercise.
“That was the No. 1 goal here,” above individual medals, said her dad, Brian, who is also her coach. “She wanted to make this team and then get the team gold. That was by far No. 1.”
The world team is five gymnasts. The cut to four for Tokyo hurts Carey’s chances of being selected for the U.S. Olympic team. A team of four will rely more on gymnasts who spread their talents across all four apparatuses, given three must be used on each apparatus in the team final.
Carey was seventh in the all-around at the U.S. Championships in August, but she was second on floor and vault behind Simone Biles.
Carey earned 2017 World silver medals on floor and vault, in her first year as an elite gymnast, at the only worlds in this Olympic cycle without a team event. Upon returning to Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale, Ariz., they honored her at a school-wide assembly.
Carey would have been a candidate for the 2018 World team, but she had to bow out from consideration to keep her path open to qualify for the Olympics individually.
Here in Stuttgart, Carey qualified first into Saturday’s vault final, topping Olympic and world champion Biles in qualifying by .001, and was third in qualifying on floor.
However, the top two in floor qualifying were Americans Biles and Sunisa Lee. A maximum of two gymnasts per country can compete in any individual final, meaning Carey can only enter Sunday’s floor final if Biles or Lee withdraws.
After worlds, Carey will return home to Arizona. She’s taking a gap year before joining the Oregon State gymnastics team. “It has kind of been a little boring,” not having classes, she said.
She will then head to Melbourne, Australia, in February for a World Cup meet.
Carey, who leads the floor and vault standings in Olympic qualifying with one spot available per apparatus, can essentially wrap up her Olympic spot by winning either event in Melbourne. It can’t become mathematically official until a later World Cup in Azerbaijan in March. But all signs point to a satisfying end to a 15-month qualifying journey that’s already taken the Careys to Germany, Azerbaijan and Qatar.
The reaction to qualifying for Tokyo will probably be an exhale more than a celebration, Brian said.
“And then realizing that everything’s not set in stone yet,” he said, “because we still have a lot to think about and to consider.”
Then she has a decision to make — accept the individual Olympic spot or turn it down and go through the U.S. Olympic trials process, hoping to be selected for the four-woman team. But turning down the individual spot could preclude the U.S. from qualifying another individual in her place, dropping their total roster size from six gymnasts to five.
“We’re keeping all options open right now,” Brian said.
She will continue to train on all four apparatuses because 1) any gymnast who qualifies for the Olympics in one individual event can compete on all four apparatuses in qualifying and 2) to keep her in all-around shape in case she declines the individual spot in pursuit of the U.S. team.
“Looking at a bunch of options,” Brian said. “Just trying to figure out the [Olympic team] selection committee and how they feel about certain things.”
He said it’s hard to choose Carey’s perfect scenario. Certainly wrapping up the individual Olympic spot. “Then sit and wait and see what happens after that,” Brian said.
What’s clear is that Carey is excited about moving to Oregon a week after the Tokyo Games. Most gymnasts end their elite, Olympic or world championships-level careers when they join college teams.
“She wants to enjoy the college experience,” Brian said.
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