Over the previous decade, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team was the hardest roster to make in the sport. It may still be. But those who earn spots at this year’s world championships will have seized an opportunity.
Not only are Olympic all-around champions Simone Biles and Suni Lee on indefinite breaks from elite competition, but Konnor McClain, crowned U.S. all-around champion two months ago, is also absent for the rest of 2022, out with a back injury.
Eleven other women compete at a selection camp streaming on USA Gymnastics’ subscription service on Friday (7 p.m. ET) and Saturday (5:50 p.m.). The all-around winner on the first day qualifies automatically for the six-woman traveling team. A committee selects the rest on Saturday night. One will at some point be designated an alternate.
“The beauty of this women’s team is that they might not have a Simone that is in a different stratosphere from the world, but they’ve got a high floor,” said NBC Sports’ John Roethlisberger, a three-time Olympian.
The conversation starts with Shilese Jones, who had the all-around title until falling on her last skill at the two-day national championships in August.
Jones thought she was done with elite gymnastics after placing 10th at last year’s Olympic Trials. She changed her mind after talks with loved ones, including her father, who later died in December after a long kidney disease battle. Sylvester Jones Jr. drove his daughter to and from practices on days he had dialysis.
Jones wrote that it was her dad’s “dream to see me on the Olympic stage one day.” The 20-year-old deferred enrollment to the University of Florida, planning to wait until after the 2024 Paris Olympics.
If Jones is a near-lock to make the team, then Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles, the two Tokyo Olympians who returned to elite competition this year, may already be written in pencil, too.
Chiles, an Olympic team silver medalist, followed her UCLA season by placing third in the all-around at nationals behind McClain and Jones.
Carey, the Olympic floor exercise champion, competed at Oregon State last winter, then was fifth at nationals. Kayla DiCello, who was fourth at nationals, withdrew from world championships team consideration to focus on her collegiate career at Florida.
The selection committee will be putting together a puzzle to round out the five-woman team.
McClain’s absence will be most felt on the balance beam. A possible fourth or fifth member of the world team, perhaps both, will likely go on beam in the three-up, three-count team final at worlds.
“Beam is still wide open,” Roethlisberger said. “Who is going to go into there, knowing worlds are on the line, and they’re going to hit beam routine after beam routine throughout the world selection camp, and get a spot that they might not have gotten because Konnor McClain is no longer going to be in that beam lineup.”
None of the top three women on beam at nationals will be at the world team selection camp, though Carey did impress at an international competition in Paris last month, placing second.
Another woman has a stronger international pedigree on the apparatus — Leanne Wong, a Tokyo Olympic alternate who placed fourth on beam at last October’s world championships. Wong tied for fifth at nationals on beam, competing on an injured ankle. She also tied for the national title on the uneven bars, another event where there’s an opening in the team final lineup.
Katelyn Jong, a 16-year-old who won last year’s U.S. junior all-around title, tied with Wong for fifth on beam at nationals in August. It was Jong’s best event at her first senior U.S. Championships, but she withdrew from the selection camp due to injury, according to USA Gymnastics on Wednesday.
If the committee wants another all-arounder, then Skye Blakely is in the driver’s seat. She was sixth at nationals, but fourth if excluding McClain and DiCello. She also had a sizable 2.8-point cushion to the gymnast right behind her in the all-around, Lexi Zeiss.
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