With Gymnastics Trials Ready To Kick Off In St. Louis, Take A Look Inside The Numbers
By Chrös McDougall |
June 21, 2021, 7:45 a.m. (ET)
Jade Carey reacts after her routine at the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships on Oct. 12, 2019 in Stuttgart, Germany.
Inside the Numbers presented by DeVry is a series that gives fans a peek at the numbers behind what it takes to qualify for Team USA and other incredible facts about Team USA sports.
For the top U.S. gymnasts, it all comes down to this.
The U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Gymnastics run Thursday through Sunday in St. Louis, serving as the final opportunity for the American women to cement their spots in Tokyo and the lone selection event for the men.
By the end of the competition, five U.S. men and six U.S. women will be on their way to Tokyo.
Winners of every global team title in the sport since 2011, the American women bring a deep field to St. Louis, and whichever group comes out should be a favorite to win another team gold medal — plus a bunch more individual medals — in Tokyo. For the men, Tokyo will be an opportunity to break through to the podium for the first time since 2008, while a handful of individuals could contend for medals of their own.
As we head into the big event, here’s a look at some key gymnastics numbers.
The road to the Olympic gymnastics competition has traveled through St. Louis before, but this year marks the first time the Gateway City will host both the men’s and women’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials. St. Louis previously hosted the men’s Olympic trials in 2016, while the women came through that year for their national championships. Four years earlier both national championships were in St. Louis. Of course, the city’s Olympic history goes much further back than that, including playing host to the third modern Olympic Games in 1904.
Sam Mikulak is the most experienced gymnast in St. Louis, having competed in both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. All of the other U.S. men are going for their first Olympic berth. Simone Biles is the lone Olympian on the women’s side after Laurie Hernandez (2016) and Chellsie Memmel (2008) failed to advance past nationals. Biles won four gold medals in 2016, including the all-around.
That’s the height, in meters, of the horizontal bar. For imperial system fans, that’s just over 9 feet. It’s no surprise most people just call it the high bar, and the apparatus is consistently one of the most thrilling to watch in a men’s gymnastics meet. U.S. gym fans have been lucky to witness a deep field of talented high bar workers over the past decade, a tradition that should continue in 2021. Sam Mikulak was a world bronze medalist on the event in 2018 and finished fifth one year later. Recently crowned U.S. all-around champ Brody Malone showed he has the powerful swings and high-flying releases to keep that tradition alive.
Women’s gymnastics has four apparatuses: balance beam, floor exercise, uneven bars and vault. At the Olympics, gymnasts compete for individual gold medals on each apparatus as well as the all-around, which combines scores from the four events. In the team competition, each country tallies three scores on each apparatus.
Remember the Magnificent Seven? What about the Fierce Five, and then the Final Five? Make no mistake, Olympic gymnastics teams are shrinking, and in Tokyo they’ll be down to four athletes per country. With a “three up, three count” format in team finals — meaning three athletes compete on each apparatus and all three scores count — the U.S. selection committees are expected to put increased emphasis this year on ability and consistency across all of the apparatuses.
There’s one consolation to the smaller team sizes in Tokyo. In addition to the four-person teams, countries had an opportunity to qualify additional athletes to Tokyo as individual competitors, and the U.S. earned “plus-one” spots for both the men and women. In fact, the U.S. women actually got “plus-two” as Jade Carey qualified for Tokyo by name as one of the winners in the apparatus world cup circuit. The other two Olympic spots will be determined at the trials based on which gymnast not already on the team has the greatest medal potential. While this controversial format has already been scrapped for 2024, when teams will return to five gymnasts, the 2020 system will provide opportunities for some world-class gymnasts whose skills simply don’t fit into the team-building calculous.
Men’s gymnastics has six apparatuses: floor exercise, horizontal bar, parallel bars, pommel horse, still rings and vault. Like the women, men compete for medals on each, as well as in the all-around and team competitions. Although men and women both do floor exercise, one notable difference is that women perform to music and incorporate artistry into their routines.
The perfect 10 is dead, right? Well, kind of. But not entirely. Gymnastics fans of a certain age will remember Nadia Comaneci’s historic first Olympic 10 at the 1976 Games in Montreal. As the story goes, the scoreboard was unprepared for her immaculate uneven bars routine and couldn’t display it in full. College gymnastics fans still see perfect 10s with some regularity throughout the NCAA season. Since 2006, however, elite gymnastics has used an open-ended code of points that’s designed to better acknowledge more difficult routines. In the new system, each routine begins with a difficulty score, or start value, that is open ended. That’s combined with an execution score that maxes out at 10 to create a final tally. So while the perfect 10 of the past is no more, at least in the Olympics, you can be sure that when Simone Biles scored 9.8 for execution on one of her vaults at the national championships, that means it was, well, pretty much perfect.
That’s how many meters gymnasts have to build up the speed before performing any combination of absurd flips and spins off the vault table. In 2012 in London, the U.S. women cruised to victory in part by their ability to collectively nail the ultra-difficult Amanar — a roundoff back handspring onto the vault, followed by a 2.5 twisting back layout off. The Amanar is still one of the most challenging vaults to do, and yet American women are now pushing the limits even further. At nationals, Biles seemed to be flying through the air in her Cheng, which is a roundoff with a half-turn onto the vault, followed by a 1.5 twisting front layout off. And at the Olympic trials she is expected to perform her roundoff double pike again after becoming the first woman to land it in competition at the U.S. Classic in May. It’s the new most difficult vault in women’s gymnastics.
When it comes to being decorated, Christmas trees could soon be playing second fiddle to Biles. The superstar gymnast bowed her head for to receive her 25th world championships medal in 2019, making her the most decorated in that event’s history. With five more medals from the Rio Games in 2016, Biles has 30 global gymnastics championship medals, putting her just three behind Belarusian gymnast Vitaly Scherbo for the most decorated of all time. However, Biles already has the most gold medals between the two competitions with 19.
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.