MyKayla Skinner vaults into event final after Biles' withdrawal

Posted at 3:18 AM, Jul 31, 2021

The phrase "third time's the charm" holds new significance for gymnast MyKayla Skinner.

In 2012, she was just old enough to compete at the Olympics but wasn't selected to be a part of the gold-medal-winning Fierce Five. Four years later, she was named a replacement athlete and traveled to Rio but didn't perform a competitive routine, as the Final Five were healthy enough to win gold. She retired from elite gymnastics and went on to an illustrious career at the University of Utah, hitting a record 161 consecutive routines without a fall while still performing the difficult skills that she was known for at the elite level. 

But her desire to become an Olympian never faded, and the 24-year-old, who jokingly calls herself a grandma because she is older than most of her teammates and competitors, made one final push for Tokyo.

At the U.S. Olympic Trials in June, Skinner was selected as an individual specialist, meaning she was not a part of the four-member team that won silver but could compete for medals on individual events. The two vaults she performed during the qualification round in Tokyo scored high enough to place her in fourth behind Simone Biles and Jade Carey, but because of a rule that only allows two gymnasts from each country to advance to an event final, Skinner got bumped.

It looked like her Olympic experience was over, and she had a flight booked back home to Arizona. Then Biles withdrew from vault and uneven bars finals, and Skinner became the next  American woman up. She posted on Instagram that she was prepared for the competition and doing it for Biles.

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Skinner will join Carey, who recently placed eighth in the individual all-around competition, in the hunt for a vault medal. Both perform the same skills, a 2.5 twisting Yurchenko known as an Amanar and a 1.5 twisting front layout called a Cheng, and scored within three tenths of each other in qualifications. Carey got the edge there and is favored to top the podium, but the Americans will face stiff competition from Rebeca Andrade. The Brazilian gymnast competes the same vaults and gets big air. She qualified to the event final in third and is coming off winning a historic silver medal in the all-around

Other competitors worth keeping an eye on are South Korea's Yeo Seo-Jeong, whose qualifying score was less than a tenth behind Skinner's, and Shallon Olsen, who could become the first female Canadian gymnast to win an Olympic medal in artistic gymnastics.