USA gymnast MyKayla Skinner’s Olympics may not be over yet

If Simone Biles backs out of vault final, former Utah athlete would be next in line to compete

(Chang W. Lee | The New York Times) MyKayla Skinner of United States gets a hug from teammate Simone Biles after her performance on the beam during women's artistic gymnastic qualifications at Ariake Gymnastics Center in Tokyo on Sunday, July 25, 2021.

MyKayla Skinner gave a little wave of goodbye after she wrapped up the Olympic women’s gymnastics qualification round in Tokyo on Saturday. She’d landed the fourth-best vault of the night, but because she couldn’t crack the top two of Team USA competitors in any event, her career — which she had extended for the chance at a medal — appeared to be over.

Now, she may get a chance to take a bow.

If teammate Simone Biles decides she is unable to compete in the individual vault finals, the former University of Utah athlete would be the next woman up, her coach confirmed.

That became a very real possibility when Biles pulled out of the team final Tuesday morning after completing just one event. Biles said she was hampered by mental health issues and did not want to cost her team a medal. Even without Biles, Team USA — which includes future University of Utah gymnast Grace McCallum — earned the silver medal behind Russia.

“It just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a back seat to work on my mindfulness,” Biles said. “I knew that the girls would do an absolutely great job and I didn’t want to risk the team a medal ... because they’ve worked way too hard for that.”

(Ashley Landis | AP) Simone Biles, of the United States, performs on the vault during the artistic gymnastics women's team final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo.

In her first event Tuesday, Biles attempted a two-and-a-half twisting vault but cut it to just one-and-a-half twists while in the air. She took a giant step on her landing and then left the competition floor to confer with medics. Shortly afterward, she gathered her teammates around and told them she had scratched from the remaining events. She later said she had no physical injuries.

After the event, Biles spoke optimistically about being ready to compete in the upcoming individual finals. She has qualified for all four apparatus finals as well as the all-around. She indicated, however, that her return to competition this week isn’t a certainty.

“It could be a turnaround for the better. We were just going to have to see,” she said. “But hopefully I’ll get back out there and compete in a couple more events. And we’ll see.”

The vault finals are scheduled for Sunday. Skinner placed third behind Biles and Jade Carey among the Americans in the qualifications. Aside from those two, only Brazil’s Rebecca Andrade had a higher score. Still, because of a rule that limits apparatus and all-around finalists to only two per country, she could not advance.

The following day, she made the circuit among NBC talk shows.

“Just to be there, to compete, finally, after all these years and everything that I’ve been through ... has been incredible,” Skinner said while on the Today show. “I’m an Olympian, so no one can take that away from me.”

When asked if Skinner is still training, Lisa Spini, her coach at Desert Lights Gymnastics in Arizona, wrote Tuesday in a text to The Salt Lake Tribune, “We’ll decide today.”

Biles and Skinner, both 24, have bonded over being the two oldest members of the Olympic squad, calling themselves the “Olympic Grandmas.” After Skinner completed the qualifications Saturday, Biles posted a message of support.

“So proud of this one,” Biles wrote alongside a photo of herself and Skinner embracing after the event. “No one understands the hard work and dedication it takes to come back from collegiate gymnastics and make an olympic team. You did the damn thing!”