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A Twisting, Turning Career Ends With A Silver Medal For MyKayla Skinner

By Chrös McDougall | Aug. 01, 2021, 9 a.m. (ET)

Mykayla Skinner poses with the silver medal on the podium for the women's vault at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 1, 2021 in Tokyo.

 

TOKYO — The flight was booked. MyKayla Skinner was flying home to Arizona on Wednesday. On Sunday, she won an Olympic silver medal instead.

In a career with more twists and turns than her Amanar vault, what’s one more?

After getting the call on Saturday that she’d be elevated into today’s women’s vault final, Skinner nailed two difficult vaults on Sunday to walk off her gymnastics career with her long sought after Olympic medal. Her two-vault average score of 14.916 placed her second behind Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade, who scored 15.083. Yeo Seojeong of South Korea won the bronze medal with 14.733.

Her medal highlighted the first of three days of individual event finals at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre. Suni Lee, coming off the all-around gold medal on Thursday, won a bronze medal on uneven bars. On the men’s side, Yul Moldauer took sixth on floor exercise, while Alec Yoder ended in the same position on pommel horse. Jade Carey, also competing in the women’s vault final, finished eighth.

“Kind of crazy,” Skinner said afterward. “I was actually gonna get on a plane to go home. I wasn’t expecting any of this to happen.”

The same could be said for much of her last five years.

From Olympic alternate to NCAA champ and then back to elite gymnastics at 22.

Then the Olympics were postponed. Then she got COVID-19. Then she had the meet of her life at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

After all that, Skinner at age 24 finally made an Olympic team. Only she didn’t make the four-person team, but rather she was selected for a new individual spot.

Nonetheless, she arrived in Tokyo and nailed it again in the qualification round, finishing with the 11th best all-around score and fourth best vault score.

Did you think the twists were over?

Thanks to a rule at international gymnastics championships that limits countries to two entries per final, Skinner was “two-per-countried” out of the Olympics after just one day. Hence, with organizers not wanting athletes to stick around too long due to COVID-19, Skinner got her flight and was ready to go home.

“I kind of had my mindset like, I’m done and ready to move on,” said Skinner, who is from Gilbert, Arizona. “After prelims it was very devastating, it took me two days to be like I’m good, I got this, I did my best.”

I’m just so honored that I never gave up and kept pushing for my dreams to get here.

MyKayla Skinner, Gymnastics

On that second day, however, the gymnastics world around her changed.

During the first rotation of Tuesday’s team competition — which Skinner didn’t take part in — American superstar Simone Biles blocked off the vault and couldn’t register where she was in the air. It’s a condition known as “the twisties.” Similar to the yips in baseball, the twisties can be life-threatening for a gymnast, especially one who does skills like a triple-twisting, double somersault.

Biles scratched the rest of the team competition as the American women went on to win a silver medal. With her world closing in on her that night, the four-time champ from Rio had the foresight to pass along an urgent message to her coach: Stop MyKayla’s flight!

“So she was on it like that,” Skinner said.

A generational talent, Biles’ status had repercussions on every individual event — she was the first woman since 1992 to qualify in all five, after all. The first domino to fall was the all-around. Biles, the defending Olympic and five-time world champion in the event, announced on Wednesday that she’d withdrawn from the next day’s final.

Carey, who finished ninth in qualifying but, like Skinner, had been two-per-countried, was elevated into Biles’ role.

Two days later, word came that Biles was giving up her spots in the individual uneven bars and vault finals. The former was reallocated to the ninth-place gymnast from qualifying. With Skinner having being two-per-countried out of vault, however, that one went to her. (Biles later withdrew from floor as well; she’s expected to decide on beam tomorrow.)

On Sunday, Skinner was the first of eight to compete. Each gymnast performs two vaults in the individual final. Skinner opened with the ultra-difficult Cheng vault — a roundoff half-on to the vault table and 1.5-twisting layout off — landing with a small hop back. The landing on her Amanar was a little more wonky, forcing her to step on the out of bounds line. Her form throughout the Yurchenko 2.5-twisting vault was on point though. Then she had to wait.

“That was terrible,” Skinner said.

In the end, only Andrade, who on Thursday became the first Latin American to win an Olympic all-around medal when she won the silver, was able to beat her.

Carey, a two-time world championships silver medalist on vault, got tripped up on her entrance to her first vault and, though she was able to flip over the apparatus and avoid serious injury, was effectively out of contention after that. She then had a big step on the landing of her second vault, an Amanar, to finish eighth with an average score of 12.416.

Carey didn’t speak to the press afterward, but Skinner called her performance “a fluke thing.”

“I can’t even imagine what she’s going through,” Skinner said. “I was just trying to help her stay positive.”

At least for Carey, she’ll have one more opportunity to end her Games on a high note when she competes in the floor exercise final on Monday. For Skinner, though, this was it. She’s already decided she’s not going back for her senior college season at Utah. Instead she’ll focus on her studies to become a sports broadcaster while continuing to create videos for the YouTube channel she runs with her husband, Jonas Harmer. Skinner also said she’s eager to start a family.

As for gymnastics? Skinner already had closure on her career last week, when she thought it was done after the qualification round. Now, with her silver medal in tow, she for sure has it.

“To make this comeback, to be kind of one in a million to make this happen and make the Olympics (after being) an alternate before, I think it’s so cool to show that age is just a number, and that anything is possible if you work hard and dream for it,” Skinner said. “I’m just so honored that I never gave up and kept pushing for my dreams to get here. For the future gymnasts out there, if their bodies are holding up and they really want it, I think they can do it.”

Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.

Chrös McDougall

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic Movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

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