ST. LOUIS — A sea of cellphones rose in the stands at the Dome at America’s Center, focused on the showstopping gymnast below, Simone Biles. Ushers and other event staff members poured in from the concourse to the edge of the stands to get a peek at her.
They wanted to see her, film her, appreciate her in some way on the day she finished first at the U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics trials, as expected, and earned a spot on her second Olympic team, as expected. In Tokyo, she will defend her Olympic all-around title from the 2016 Games. If she wins gold again, Biles will be the first woman to achieve that feat in more than 50 years.
And if she is successful, her marathon winning streak will grow even longer.
Biles, 24, hasn’t lost an all-around competition since 2013, when she was just 16 and not yet a four-time Olympic gold medalist. That was long before she amassed 25 world championship medals to become the most decorated gymnast in history, long before she became so good that other gymnasts could only hope for second place in the all-around.
Based on their recent performances, particularly at the trials, a team of gymnasts were chosen on Sunday to be her supporting cast in Tokyo. Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum were named to the squad that will compete alongside Biles in the team event, which the U.S. will try to win for the third consecutive Games. Two other gymnasts, Jade Carey and MyKayla Skinner, were named to the Olympic team as individual competitors.
Biles and Lee earned automatic berths to the team by finishing first and second in the all-around at the trials. Carey had already secured her spot by virtue of her strong finish in the International Gymnastics Federation’s World Cup series. A U.S.A. Gymnastics committee took about 30 minutes to choose the other Olympians.
While Biles, Lee and Chiles were favorites to make the team, the recipient of the final spot for the team event in Tokyo was the biggest unknown going into the trials. In the end, McCallum, 18, from Isanti, Minn., received the spot because her top scores gave the U.S. team the best chance at the gold medal. She finished fourth in the all-around, with strong finishes in all of the events.
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Sunisa Lee, 18, from St. Paul, Minn., had been focused on making the Tokyo Olympics for years, and on Sunday night she did it for her father, just as she had envisioned.
John Lee, her father, was watching in the arena from his wheelchair, amazed by Sunisa’s maturity and skill. It was just Sunisa’s second competition he had watched live since he fell from a ladder in 2019 and injured his spine. At nationals this month, John Lee, who is paralyzed from the chest down, said he couldn’t be more proud of Sunisa and of how she was able to excel in her sport since his accident.
Sunisa Lee’s ultimate goal is to win an Olympic gold medal for her father, and she just might do it, but he can’t travel to Tokyo to see that happen. No international spectators are allowed at the Games, so John Lee will have to marvel at his daughter from afar. She has a great shot at winning a gold medal on the uneven bars, the one event that is Biles’s weakness.
On Sunday night, Biles was far from perfect on more than just the uneven bars. She wobbled and bobbled on the four-inch-wide balance beam before grabbing it with her hands and then jumping down. She had hops on the landings of both of her vaults. On the floor exercise, during which she flew so high on her tumbling passes that she seemed to threaten to scrape the roof, she stepped out of bounds twice.
Her teammate, Chiles, 20, of Vancouver, Wash., stepped in to provide consistency. Since the start of this year, Chiles has performed 24 of 24 routines without a major mistake, an amazing accomplishment in a sport with such minuscule margin for error. When she nailed her floor exercise routine to end her night, she bent over and put her hands on her knees in a mix of relief and exhilaration. She had done everything she could to show the selection committee that she deserved a trip to Tokyo. And it turned out to be more than enough.
At Biles’s invitation, Chiles moved to Texas in 2019 to train with Biles to get out of her gymnastics rut. It now appears to be the best decision she has ever made. She and Biles grew as close as family both in and out of the gym, and Chiles’s sister, Jazmin, even applied the duo’s makeup and coifed their hair for trials.
The fans who packed the arena snapped photos and videos of Biles in that makeup and hairdo. And after Biles finished her last event of the night, the floor exercise, the crowd rose in a standing ovation to salute her.
On a night when Biles was not perfect, she was still the biggest star.
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