No team gold, but Americans show depth during their time in Tokyo | Sports


TOKYO – Simone Biles takes a break. Maybe a permanent. Sunisa Lee, Jade Carey, Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum are all sprinting to college. MyKayla Skinner is ready to start a family.

The six Americans who bring home six medals from the Tokyo Olympics may never compete in international competitions again. Biles returns home to Texas to focus on her mental and physical well-being before headlining a fall tour. Lee wants to move into her dormitory in Auburn next week with her Olympic eventing gold medal, eager for respite from an elite environment she has described as “crazy.”

Not exactly the most glowing endorsement of what’s going on both inside and outside of the sport’s highest level. Lee pointed to the increased attention surrounding the Olympics – particularly through media, social and otherwise – as contributing to a level of stress that has become problematic.

“The more pressure you put on yourself, the harder it will be,” said Lee, who has won three medals in all. “And that just takes away the fun of gymnastics, which really sucks because I started gymnastics because I loved it. So that stuff takes everything away from us.”

It’s a level of attention, however, brought on by the dominance American women have exhibited over the past decade, a standard American women have done little to distance themselves from as the Games approach.

The United States arrived in Japan as the big favorites to extend a winning streak that dated back to the 2011 world championships. This is one of the reasons why US director of high performance, Tom Forster, has said the Olympic selection committee opted for the ranking order of the trials when putting together the four-woman squad instead of taking one that could potentially score a tenth or two more.

Forster said he wanted to protect “the integrity of the process” and believed that a tenth or two wouldn’t matter. And he was right. A resurgent Russian team topped the United States by more than a point in qualifying and won their first team gold since 1992 in the final as the Americans retained silver after Biles retired from competing after a spin while dealing with a phenomenon called “twisties”.

While Biles’ astonishing admission shifted the discussion of his pursuit of a second consecutive Olympic title to the importance of athletes making their mental health a priority, it also somehow showed just how important the group that the United States brought to Tokyo was even with the expenses of Biles. most of the participants watch from the stands.

American women have won medals in every final, the only program – men or women – of the competition to do so at the Ariake Gymnastics Center. Still, USA Gymnastics is making an effort to move away from using Olympic bling as the only metric that defines success.

As President Li Li Leung points out that progress is being made in creating a more athlete-centered culture and that some gymnasts – Skinner in particular – have welcomed the changes they have seen, the work remains to be done. .

The leadership message remains a problem. The optics too.

Both Skinner and McCallum have admitted that they don’t really have any clarity on the team selection process. Allan Bower, a replacement for the men’s team, spoke out after the organization failed to offer him funding or insurance. Friends have set up a GoFundMe to help him train through the world championship selection process later this year. Mediation with abused athletes by former national team doctor Larry Nassar drags on nearly three years after USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy in an attempt to bring all cases under one roof.

Perhaps the most symbolic moment for the organization isn’t at the medal stand, but after Biles realizes she wasn’t quite right when she jumped from her first jump in the team final. Shaken, she consulted Dr Marcia Faustin before leaving the competition. She then praised Faustin’s support for helping her through such a difficult ordeal.

For a national governing body trying to rebuild trust, this is a very small start but potentially very important.

U.S. and IOC officials then made sure Biles had everything she needed medically and physically to pave the way for her return to the ground on the final day of competition, where she won a seventh Olympic medal by winning bronze on beam.

Afterward, she expressed her relief and gratitude for everything else. It’s far too early to make firm decisions on 2024, though Biles is keeping the door open.

The same goes for Lee, who intends to become the first US Olympic all-around champion to compete collegially. His five predecessors – Biles included – all turned professional to capitalize on their success rather than accepting a college scholarship. Lee doesn’t have to choose thanks to recently passed legislation that will allow him to profit by having companies use his name, image and likeness.

As a new star in her sport, she will likely be in demand the second her plane lands at his home in Minnesota. This will likely follow her to Auburn, where she will have to juggle her newfound fame, a course load, and attempt to maintain most of her elite skills while abiding by NCAA rules that will limit her to 20 hours of training per week.

It’s a lot to take on. Not just for Lee, but also for Chiles (UCLA), McCallum (Utah) and Carey (Oregon State). Skinner, who played in Utah for three years before returning to elite competition in 2019, can’t say for sure what will happen at the highest level of USA Gymnastics.

The college game? Skinner expects it to be turned on.

“So I think it’s going to be really cool to see how that changes, you know, varsity gymnastics and seeing all these Olympians come out,” Skinner said. “I think it’s really great.”

About Hubert Lee

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