Sam Mikulak

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As Simone Biles eyes farewell, Olympic gymnastics picture jumbles

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When Simone Biles decided to come back for a second Olympic run, she could not have envisioned this kind of history: Biles, if she makes the Tokyo Olympic team, will become the second U.S. female gymnast in the last 50 years to span eight years competing at the highest international level.

Biles, who won her first world all-around title in 2013, would join Dominique Dawes, an Olympian in 1992, 1996 and 2000.

“Mentally, going another year, I think that’s what going to take a toll,” Biles, expected to retire after Tokyo, said on TODAY two weeks ago.

Had the Olympics been held this summer, Biles, 23, would have still bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic female gymnast since 2004, and the oldest U.S. Olympic female gymnast to ever win a gold medal. Those feats, if accomplished in 2021, will have been even harder earned given the current circumstances.

“You’re working against time, your body, your mind, a growing phase, so many different things,” NBC Olympics analyst Nastia Liukin said. “So it’s definitely scary, I think, for a lot of those that were vying for a spot on the team to rethink and wonder, where am I going to be in a year?”

One month ago, before sports were halted indefinitely, the U.S. Olympic team situation was this: Biles an overwhelming favorite to clinch one of the four team-event spots at June’s Olympic Trials. Another 10 or so women in the mix for the other three spots.

After Biles, the next name mentioned has to be Sunisa Lee. The 17-year-old from Minnesota was runner-up to Biles in her senior nationals debut last August. She then joined Biles in the world championships all-around in October, placing eighth, though she would have earned a medal if not for an uncharacteristic fall off her best apparatus, the uneven bars.

“If [Lee] has a year coming up like she had last year, then she’s going to be hard-pressed to not make that Olympic team,” NBC Olympics analyst Tim Daggett said.

Decisions in the last week altered the picture. The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) ruled that the most recent international Olympic qualifying competition in March, which was halted between qualifying and finals, will have those qualifying scores count as final results.

If nothing else changes, that means that Jade Carey became the first American gymnast to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics — in individual events, but not as part of the four-woman team-event roster. One more American woman can be named to the Olympics in individual events only apart from the four-woman team.

Also, the federation made a ruling on age minimums that led the gymnastics community to believe that current 15-year-olds, who would be too young for a 2020 Olympics, were made eligible for 2021.

At least one gymnast who turned 16 or younger in the Olympic year made the last 10 U.S. Olympic women’s teams. Konnor McClain and Skye Blakely, second and fourth at last year’s junior nationals, just entered the already crowded picture for Olympic team spots.

Older gymnasts in contention include: Morgan Hurd, who won the world all-around title during Biles’ one-year break in 2017. Hurd did not make the six-woman world championships team last year but rebounded to win the American Cup last month.

MyKayla Skinner, a Rio Olympic alternate looking to become the first U.S. female gymnast with NCAA experience to make an Olympic team since Brown’s Alicia Sacramone in 2008.

Kayla DiCello, last year’s junior national champion who impressed enough there and at national team camps to be named, along with Hurd, to the American Cup.

And Kara Eaker and Grace McCallum, the two women other than Biles to compete for the U.S. at each of the last two world championships.

“There are going to be four athletes [who don’t make the team], at least, that anywhere else in the world will win an Olympic medal,” Daggett said.

A variable brought by the coronavirus pandemic: Some athletes still have gym time. Biles tweeted Thursday that she has not been training. Others around the world have home set-ups, equipment included.

“That’s the biggest piece of concern for a lot of people,” Liukin said. “I don’t think I ever took more than a long weekend off. That’s scary. It’s scary to think that you could possibly be going months without doing gymnastics on the equipment, and then wondering how long is it going to take for me to get back to where I was before all this happened.”

Many of the top U.S. men often work out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, but that was shut down last month. How will it affect Sam Mikulak, bidding to become the fist U.S. male gymnast to span nine or more years among Olympic appearances since 1948? Or Yul Moldauer, the 2017 U.S. all-around champion who battled injuries the last two years (and recently started training on a pommel horse in a garage).

The biggest name in men’s gymnastics is Kohei Uchimura, the eight-time Olympic or world all-around champion from Japan. Uchimura fought injuries every year of this Olympic cycle to hang on for 2020. His finish line just extended another year.

“For guys that are older and have been sidelined for a longer period of time, coming back from injuries, I think it’s going to be harder for them,” Daggett said. “[Uchimura] may come out of this better, but I would say that the odds are against that. He had a long period of time to figure out what his plan was. They had already taken the time off that they needed to address some of those physical issues. Now, it’s a very long road again.”

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U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Centers close facilities

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The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s two main training centers in Colorado Springs and Lake Placid, N.Y., have closed their training facilities due to coronavirus concerns.

Resident athletes in Colorado Springs will be allowed to stay and use the dining and medical facilities, but all athletic operations are shut down.

“(B)eginning tomorrow, Wednesday March 18, all training venues (pool, velodrome, gymnasiums, strength and conditioning) will be closed,” Colorado Springs officials told athletes in an email. “This closure will remain in effect for 30 days per the Governor’s orders.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced Monday that all restaurants and gyms must close on Tuesday. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued a nearly identical order.

The Colorado Springs dining operation is closed for sit-down meals but will provide to-go meals to any athletes who stay at the center.

The closures will add to the scramble for training options leading up to the Olympics.

“Out of training for a month,” gymnast Sam Mikulak posted on Instagram. “I know I’m not alone on this, how is everyone else dealing with their Olympic preparation in these times?”

Pole vaulter Sandi Morris replied: “all facilities at U of Arkansas where I normally vault are closed up, probably going to go stay in Austin or Atlanta and train at private clubs for a few weeks. UA says they will reconsider opening facilities April 15, but I’m not betting on it. So for now … getting a plan together and doing workouts in my backyard for a few days.”

BMX racer Connor Fields responded with an emoji for beer.

USA Gymnastics is attempting to help.

“”We are we are working with athletes and their coaches to find safe alternative solutions for our athletes to train,” USA Gymnastics said in an email statement.

Athletes elsewhere have voiced similar concerns. British heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson said on Twitter that a training camp in the U.S. has been canceled and she’s unable to train in France.

The Lake Placid center opened two years after the 1980 Olympics were held in the upstate New York village. It specializes in winter sports but also trains athletes in several summer sports.

Colorado Springs is the home of several national governing bodies as well as the training center itself.

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Morgan Hurd wins American Cup, signals gymnastics rebound

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Morgan Hurd returned from missing the 2019 World Championships to win the American Cup. She will like this history: Every female gymnast to win the American Cup in an Olympic year went on to make the Olympic team.

Sam Mikulak, a two-time U.S. Olympian and six-time national all-around champion, won the men’s competition.

Hurd, the 2017 World all-around champion during Simone Biles‘ break, totaled 55.832 points to prevail by seven tenths over fellow American Kayla DiCello in Milwaukee. The one-day competition lacked Biles and the other all-around medalists from worlds in October.

Hurd had no falls across four routines and few significant errors. The last time a non-U.S. woman won the American Cup was in 2001. Full results are here.

“The message I guess I’m sending myself and the world is just, it’s not over until it’s over,” she told Andrea Joyce on NBC. “I feel at my greatest I’ve ever been.”

In the last 18 months, Hurd went from the best U.S. gymnast outside Biles to being left off the 2019 World team of six. She was fourth at the 2019 U.S. Championships and ninth at a later world team selection camp.

Hurd previously won the American Cup, the U.S.’ most prestigious annual international meet, in 2018. Other winners in Olympic years included Nadia ComaneciMary Lou RettonCarly PattersonNastia Liukin and Gabby Douglas.

“This was a watershed for [Hurd],” said Tom Forster, the U.S. national women’s team coordinator. “This was her opportunity to state who she is as an athlete, not to be ignored. I think she felt ignored for not making the world team.

“You never know how the athletes are going to handle that. Some get really sad and it kind of crumbles their self-confidence. Others get mad and do something about it. That’s what you hope for, and that’s exactly what she did. She made a statement.”

DiCello, a Maryland high school sophomore, was similarly clean to Hurd in her senior debut. DiCello won last year’s U.S. junior title, making her an Olympic team contender. At least one woman who turned 16 or younger in the Olympic year made the last 10 Olympic teams. DiCello, by being selected for American Cup, became likeliest to extend that streak.

The U.S. Olympic team of four, plus two gymnasts in individual events only, will be named after June’s Olympic Trials. Jade Carey has all but wrapped up one of the individual spots.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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