By Chrös McDougall | July 06, 2016, 11:55 a.m. (ET)


Five women will be named to the 2016 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team on Sunday. 

If you’re to believe national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, those five names were penciled into place following the P&G Gymnastics Championships earlier this month in St. Louis.

But gymnastics can be a fickle sport. One untimely injury, or a bad bout of nerves, can change everything. That makes the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, held Friday and Sunday in San Jose, California, the vital last test for America’s best gymnasts.

So who are the contenders to go to Rio de Janeiro?

First, it’s important to understand the context. Since the 2012 Games, Olympic gymnastics teams are limited to five athletes. Karolyi and the selection committee are not necessarily selecting the five best all-around gymnasts, though.

The top priority for USA Gymnastics is defending its 2012 team gold medal, which means selecting the squad best suited for the unforgiving team finals format: three gymnasts per team compete on each apparatus, and all three scores count.

To maximize the scoring potential from those 12 routines, Karolyi will be looking for gymnasts who can put up big scores and do so consistently. With some of the world’s best all-around gymnasts at her disposal, she’ll have some room to consider at least one specialist — a gymnast who thrives on one event but is weak, or doesn’t even compete, on the others.

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Olympic women’s gymnastics includes five other gold medals, though — for the individual all-around, and for each of the four events. The all-around is the prestige individual event, and an American has won the past three Olympic gold medals. But any Olympic medal is a big deal. So if a gymnast has medal potential in any event, Karolyi will be searching for a way to include that gymnast on the team.

With that in mind, whether you’re at SAP Center or watching on NBC, here’s what you need to know about the top contenders this weekend, in order of their chances to make the Olympic team.

Simone Biles competes on floor exercise at the 2016 P&G Gymnastics Championships at Chaifetz Arena on June 26, 2016 in St. Louis.
Simone Biles

Age: 19

The Case for Biles: If you haven’t seen Biles compete yet, you’ll recognize her right away. The unprecedented three-time world all-around champ doesn’t just win; she blows the competition out of the water with her powerful acrobatics and otherworldly difficult routines. Her U.S. teammates — not a shabby bunch — are resigned to being satisfied with second place against Biles. It’s a feeling the rest of the world’s gymnasts are beginning to understand, too.

What to Watch For: Biles’ routines are so difficult she could fall and potentially still win an event, so nothing short of a serious injury can derail her Olympic hopes now. She has nothing more to prove against domestic competition, so fans should sit back and enjoy a gymnast who could conceivably win individual gold medals in the all-around and three individual events in Rio.

Olympic Hopes: As sure a thing as one can be.


Gabby Douglas
Gabby Douglas competes on balance beam at the 2016 P&G Gymnastics Championships at Chaifetz Arena on June 24, 2016 in St. Louis.

Age: 20

The Case for Douglas: The 2012 Olympic all-around champion is back and aiming to become the first woman to successfully defend that title since Czechoslovakia’s Vera Caslavska in 1964 and ’68. Now a bit more subdued on the competition floor, and visibly stronger, Douglas remains a threat on all four events and was the world all-around runner-up last year, her first season back in competition after the London Games.

What to Watch For: Douglas comes into San Jose needing to switch her trajectory. Through four all-around competitions so far in 2016, her scores have gotten slightly lower each time, with her matching 58.9 results in St. Louis being good enough for fourth place. With only two event finalists allowed per country in Rio, Douglas could be in real danger of following Jordyn Wieber’s path from 2012. Wieber, the 2011 world champion, had the fourth-best all-around score in qualifications, but she was the third best American, meaning she missed out on finals.

Olympic Hopes: The next best thing to a sure thing.


Aly Raisman
Aly Raisman competes on floor exercise at the 2016 P&G Gymnastics Championships at Chaifetz Arena on June 26, 2016 in St. Louis. 

Age: 22

The Case for Raisman: The 2012 Olympic floor exercise champion has rounded back into top form since returning to competition last season. After a disappointing 2015 world championships — by her standards — Raisman has refocused and won the non-Biles division at the P&G Championships, finishing second in the all-around and three or four apparatuses (behind Biles in each one).

What to Watch For: The only event in which Raisman isn’t rock solid is the uneven bars, in which she finished 12th in St. Louis. Continued improvement there could make her very hard to beat for Team USA’s second all-around finals spot again in 2016. She shocked Wieber in taking Team USA’s second all-around spot in the 2012 Games and finished fourth, but would have won bronze if it weren’t for a tiebreaker.

Olympic Hopes: The next best thing to a sure thing.


Laurie Hernandez

Age: 16

The Case for Hernandez: The heralded youngster lived up to the hype in St. Louis. Competing in her first U.S. championships at the senior level, Hernandez finished third or tied for third in every competition. Now she just needs to do it again and no one will doubt her worthiness on Team USA.

What to Watch For: More than a high-scoring gymnast, the spunky Hernandez also brings the charisma and flair that made athletes like Douglas in 2012 and Shawn Johnson in ’08 fan favorites.

Olympic Hopes: If she stays the course, she’s going to Rio.


Madison Kocian

Age: 19

The Case for Kocian: No matter what, it’s always hard for the selection committee to leave off a gymnast who’s capable of winning an individual gold medal. Kocian fits that description after she won a 2015 world title in uneven bars — albeit in an unusual four-way tie. She was fifth in the all-around at the P&G Championships.

What to Watch For: Kocian’s ability on the uneven bars is well documented, so her goal in San Jose is to show improvement in her other three events. It’s unlikely she’d compete on a second apparatus in Olympic team finals, but it never hurts to have a solid backup.

Olympic Hopes: She’s trending toward Rio.


Ashton Locklear competes on the balance beam at the 2016 P&G Gymnastics Championships at Chaifetz Arena on June 26, 2016 in St. Louis.
Ashton Locklear

Age: 18

The Case for Locklear: Kocian might be the defending world champion on uneven bars, but Locklear beat her by .15 points over two nights in St. Louis. Locklear’s long lines and elegant performances scored just a bit higher than Kocian’s more difficult routines. But Locklear eschews the all-around to focus on bars and balance beam, giving the team less room for error if it picks her.

What to Watch For: To surpass Kocian, Locklear is going to need to create real separation on the uneven bars. A standout balance beam performance wouldn’t hurt, either.

Olympic Hopes: She’s not in yet, but she’s not out either.


MyKayla Skinner

Age: 19

The Case for Skinner: She tied for third on floor exercise and had the third-best score over two days on vault, and she was top-four in each event at the 2014 world championships. That type of ability can make up for comparatively low scores on bars and beam, especially on a team loaded with all-around talent, as Team USA likely will be.

What to Watch For: Skinner’s level of difficulty on her two good events in St. Louis was comparable to the top Americans, so a slight improvement in execution could make a big difference.

Olympic Hopes: She’s not in yet, but she’s not out either.


Maggie Nichols competes on the uneven bars at the 2016 P&G Gymnastics Championships at Chaifetz Arena on June 24, 2016 in St. Louis.
Maggie Nichols

Age: 18

The Case for Nichols: In the non-Biles division, “Swaggie Maggie” was queen — last year. She was the all-around runner-up at the U.S. championships, and her all-around score during team finals at the world championships would have placed her second in the world to Biles (she didn’t compete all-around in qualifications). However, she’s coming off arthroscopic knee surgery in April and has yet to regain her 2015 form.

What to Watch For: After competing only bars and beam in St. Louis, Nichols will take on the all-around again in San Jose. She’ll need some big scores to get back on Karolyi’s radar.

Olympic Hopes: In need of a standout performance to keep her chances alive.


Ragan Smith

Age: 15

The Case for Smith: Another gymnast in her first year on the senior level, Smith was eighth in the all-around in St. Louis and, most importantly, fifth in the balance beam.

What to Watch For: Smith’s Olympic hopes rest on the balance beam. If she can put herself in position to be one of the top three Americans on that event in the Olympic team final, she’s got a shot.

Olympic Hopes: Likely an alternate at best.


 
Amelia Hundley competes on the balance beam at the 2016 P&G Gymnastics Championships at Chaifetz Arena on June 24, 2016 in St. Louis.
Amelia Hundley

Age: 18

The Case for Hundley: She finished sixth in the all-around in St. Louis and has championship experience as part of the U.S. team that won at the 2015 Pan American Games.

What to Watch For: Hundley had a good showing in the all-around competition in St. Louis but didn’t stand out on any one event. With the top four U.S. all-arounders looking like favorites to make the Olympic team, she’ll need to be great on one event rather than good at all four.

Olympic Hopes: Likely an alternate at best.


The Best of the Rest: Fifteen women moved on from the P&G Championships to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, although Alyssa Baumann had to withdraw after tearing several ligaments and muscles in her left elbow during training. Though not a favorite for the Rio team, Baumann’s standout balance beam work meant she was at least in the picture. … Rachel Gowey is one of the better Americans on uneven bars, but when it comes to bars specialists, Kocian and Locklear are a significant step ahead. … Brenna Dowell, who began her collegiate career at Oklahoma in 2014-15, is a world championships veteran but lacks a standout event. … Christina Desiderio and Emily Schild, who finished 11th and 12th in the all-around in St. Louis, round out the field for San Jose.


Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009, including the gymnastics national championships and Olympic trials every year since 2011, on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.