Sunisa Lee

MyKayla Skinner
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Olympic age rule stirs reaction from gymnastics community

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In an interview last week, USA Gymnastics Chief Programs Officer Stefanie Korepin acknowledged an International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) decision regarding an Olympic age eligibility rule created a lot of debate within the sport’s community.

Days later, half of the U.S. women’s team that was sent to the 2019 World Championships voiced their opinions.

The FIG has had a rule since 2000 that female artistic gymnasts must turn 16 or older in that year to compete in the Olympics (and now for world championships in all the non-Olympic years). When the Tokyo Olympics were postponed until 2021, the FIG faced a decision: keep the Olympic field under 2020 terms, or let those turning 16 in 2021 into the fold. It chose the latter in April.

“I see both sides of the coin,” Korepin said. “On one hand, many of our athletes, the Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of our athletes, and they peak at a specific time. And to have that pool of athletes that they have to compete against for the Olympics changed can be really difficult. But, on the other hand, there are really incredible young athletes who now have an opportunity that they didn’t have before, so we’re excited for them. It’s definitely a mixed bag of emotions, how we feel about it.”

NBC Olympics analyst Nastia Liukin, who won the 2008 Olympic all-around title after being one year too young for the 2004 Athens Games, said before the FIG ruling that she was glad she wasn’t a decision-maker. “I don’t know if there is a right decision,” she said.

Three members of the current U.S. women’s gymnastics team said they disagreed with the FIG decision.

MyKayla SkinnerJade Carey and Sunisa Lee, half of the U.S. team sent to the 2019 World Championships, opined in a wide-ranging YouTube question-and-answer on Skinner’s channel published Monday.

“I think that it was wrong,” said Carey, the lone U.S. gymnast who has already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. “If they’re still going to call it the 2020 Olympics [the Games in 2021 will still be called Tokyo 2020], then everything needs to stay the way that it was going to be.

“No hate towards any of the juniors now. But it’s just not fair to us because now there’s a whole bunch more athletes that could now go. … They’ve been pacing for 2024, and now they’re all just, all of a sudden, try to do it for this one year that they weren’t trying for in the first place.”

Lee, the 2019 U.S. all-around silver medalist behind Simone Biles, said it was really unfair. Skinner, an alternate at the 2016 Olympics and 2019 Worlds who is clinging to one more year of elite gymnastics at age 23, said she hoped the FIG decision could be changed. 

Biles, the lone gymnast considered a lock for the Olympic team (other than Carey), has not publicly shared her opinion. One of her coaches, Cecile Landi, did.

“I have NOTHING against the 2005 generation but I don’t agree with this decision,” was tweeted from Landi’s account on April 9. “It will be the 2020 Olympics so the rules should remain the same as THIS YEAR.”

Konnor McClain is considered by many the U.S.’ top 15-year-old gymnast who just became Tokyo Olympic eligible. Her mom, Lorinda, was surprised the FIG made her eligible and kept the early 2021 goal modest — to earn a place at the Olympic Trials.

“Making it to the trials would be great and keeping that 2024 path on track,” she said. “This [age decision] all made it a little hard because we were on a slow pace. We were working for 2024, so this kind of threw a wrench in our spokes.”

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Simone Biles breaks gymnastics worlds medals record, gets 5 golds this week

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STUTTGART, Germany — Simone Biles‘ routine this week that no fans saw took place hours before she competed.

Her mom, Nellie, said she made up Biles’ hair in the mornings at the world championships, her first time doing so regularly at a major competition in several years. In the last Olympic cycle, her parents were allowed little contact with her at major international meets.

That policy changed in her comeback after 14 months away from training post-Rio.

“It’s a great bonding experience,” Nellie said before her daughter won her fourth and fifth gold medals to close the meet on Sunday, breaking the record for career world medals and giving her 25 total, including 19 golds. “Whatever is on my mind, I can tell her. I can get a feel for how she’s feeling.”

Nellie had little to tell Biles before what were likely the final world championships events of her career.

She doesn’t come across as stressed,” at this meet, Nellie said, noting what makes this year unique from her five previous Olympic or world competitions. “It’s how calm she is and how confident she is with her skills.”

GYM WORLDS: Finals Results

Biles, who became the first gymnast to earn five golds at a single worlds since 1958, said before the meet she’s 99 percent sure she won’t be back for 2021 or later.

Nellie sent her off into Sunday’s balance beam and floor exercise finals with one of her two go-to phrases: “Just like practice.” The other, which Nellie often tweets at Biles, is “Be the best Simone,” a nod not to get caught up in others’ expectations.

They couldn’t be higher heading toward Tokyo.

For the first time in at least 30 years, perhaps ever, the most recognizable U.S. athlete in Tokyo among sports whose biggest competition is the Olympics will be a gymnast.

After five golds here, there will be talk of Biles trying to become the second woman to earn five golds at a single Games. The other was 1988 East German swimmer Kristin OttoKatie Ledecky and Simone Manuel could also have a say here.

A little reflection: When Biles won her first four world championships medals in 2013, including all-around gold, any expectations had to be held in check. At the time, this stat was key: the previous 10 years, 10 different women had been the top U.S. all-around finisher at the season’s biggest meet. And no U.S. woman had made back-to-back Olympic teams since 2000. Could Biles possibly keep up that level of gymnastics for another three years?

One of her coaches even doubted it. Aimee Boorman, who guided Biles from age 7 through the Rio Games, tweeted on Sunday, “When @Simone_Biles won her first World’s AA title, my co-coach was worried that she had peaked too early for Rio. My response was “maybe she will become the greatest of all time”. So proud of you today (and all days) Simone!”

It’s well-documented that Biles came back stronger off that well-deserved break. She’s introduced new skills on the balance beam, floor exercise and vault, yet decided she needed neither eponymous beam nor vault skill, which carry more difficulty points, in this weekend’s event finals.

“This is probably my best worlds performance I’ve ever put out,” she said.

The motivation and drive are still there, too. In winning the beam Sunday, Biles leaped out of her chair when she saw that her score eclipsed 15 points. Biles is determined to perform a strong beam routine in Tokyo, given she grabbed the apparatus to keep from falling in the Rio Olympic final and dropped to bronze.

Biles has little to say when asked about the significance of 25 world medals. What’s more important to her than all of them, which are kept in a safe, and the daily records are the skills she’s introduced that are named after her in the Code of Points.

“When you’ve had so much success in the sport, what brings you back in the gym is something original, different stuff. It’s not just winning,” said Laurent Landi, who with wife Cecile has coached Biles since she returned to the gym in November 2017. “When they [gymnasts] get older, and when they achieve as much as she did, this is a great way to motivate her to come back in the gym.”

The family and coaches will fly back to Texas soon. Biles expects her mom to throw her usual post-worlds party. It has included a DJ and bartender in the past. Now 22, Biles can enjoy all of it. And maybe find time to put the last six years in perspective.

“Everybody has to end it some time,” she said, looking ahead. “You can’t keep going for the rest of your life. I feel like I just want gymnastics to be part of my life, not my whole, entire life.”

In Sunday’s finals, Biles was joined on the floor podium by teammate Sunisa Lee. Lee, a 16-year-old at her first worlds, took silver to follow her uneven bars bronze on Saturday. She’s been the second-best U.S. gymnast behind Biles this year, a breakout after she was third at junior nationals in 2018.

In men’s events, Sam Mikulak finished fifth on the high bar, which was won by Brazilian Arthur Nory. The U.S. men failed to earn a medal at a worlds for the first time since 2009. China failed to earn a men’s or women’s gold for the first time since 1993.

Russians Nikita Nagornyy and Artur Dalaloyan went one-two on vault, just as they did in Friday’s all-around. Nagornyy, the new star of men’s gymnastics to succeed Japanese Kohei Uchimura, earned his third gold of the meet.

Joe Fraser became the second British man to earn gold this week (Max Whitlock), taking a parallel bars final that lacked the usual suspects. Japanese Kazuma Kaya earned bronze, ensuring the 2020 Olympic host nation does not leave worlds without an individual medal for the first time since 2001.

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Simone Biles ties world gymnastics championships medal record, leads U.S. one-two

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STUTTGART, Germany — Simone Biles would lose count of her world gymnastics championships medals if she wasn’t reminded of the number at nearly every interview stop in the mixed zone.

“I never think of medal counts or anything,” she said after winning her record-tying 23rd medal and record-extending 17th gold in the vault final on Saturday, the penultimate day of worlds. “I let everyone else do the counting for me.

“I couldn’t tell you how many I have if you didn’t tell me already.”

Biles was joined on the vault podium by Jade Carey, who earned her second vault silver in three years despite taking a large step out of the central landing area on her second vault.

Biles performed exquisite vaults — a Cheng and an Amanar — with just small hops on each landing. The scores — 15.333 and 15.466 — were the highest of the 16 total vaults performed by the eight women in the final. She chose not to throw her eponymous vault that carries more difficulty.

Later Saturday, Biles finished fifth on uneven bars, her weakest event, with the same score that earned her silver last year. Belgian Nina Derwael repeated as world champ. American Sunisa Lee earned her first individual world medal — a silver.

“I couldn’t be more happy,” Biles said of her day. “I’m not even mad about [bars]. I knew going into today there was a very slim chance that I would even medal.”

Biles can still break her tie with 1990s Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo for the total medals record Sunday on the balance beam or the floor exercise, the last two finals. She is the favorite on both events.

Biles has said she is 99 percent sure these will be her final worlds. That would set up the Tokyo Games to be her final competition.

“I never think, oh, this could be my last,” she said. “I kind of cherish the moment.”

In other events Saturday, French gymnast Samir Ait Said, who gruesomely broke his leg on a Rio Olympic vault landing, qualified for the Tokyo Games by earning the last available spot from the still rings final.

Said, whose father died in February, earned bronze and knocked Greek Olympic still rings champion Eleftherios Petrounias off the podium and out of an automatic Olympic spot. Petrounias can still qualify for the Olympics via another route next year. Turkey’s Ibrahim Colak took gold, his nation’s first world title.

Brit Max Whitlock earned his third world title on pommel horse. Whitlock will go to Tokyo looking to become the first repeat Olympic pommel horse champion in 40 years.

Carlos Yulo became the first Filipino gymnast to win a world title, prevailing on floor by one tenth. Yulo, 19, became the first Filipino medalist when he earned floor bronze last year.

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GYM WORLDS: TV Schedule | Finals Results