The third time was the charm for MyKayla Skinner. Two years after returning to the elite gymnastics world stage, she has finally achieved her dream of becoming an Olympian.
There were many bumps in the road for Skinner. She wasn’t chosen to compete in the 2012 Olympic trials. She was named an alternate for the 2016 Rio Olympics despite posting the fourth-best all-around score at the 2016 U.S. gymnastics trials. She retired from elite gymnastics after the 2016 Olympics to focus on her college career with the Utah Red Rocks.
Following her return to the sport, the COVID pandemic hit. Skinner caught the virus and dealt pneumonia caused by it that disrupted her training for the 2021 Olympics.
But now, that is all behind her and the 24-year-old is ready to represent the United States at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
“It still hasn’t hit me yet,” Skinner said after the U.S. Olympic trials, per Deseret News. “Is this real? It felt like trials haven’t even happened yet. … It’s so crazy that this is really happening, so I’m sure once I settle in with it, it’ll hit me.”
MyKayla Skinner’s first Olympic bid
Skinner competed in the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials and posted the fourth-best score of any participant. It looked like her strong all-around performance would give her a chance to represent the United States.
However, she was named an alternate at the competition. Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian were ultimately selected as the five gymnasts for the team competition.
Skinner evidently wasn’t happy with the USA’s decision to put Douglas — who had finished seventh all-around in the trials — on the team ahead of her.
At the time, coach Marta Karolyi explained that Douglas’ strength on the uneven bars and floor were what helped her make the team. Douglas had also been the gold medalist in the all-around at the 2012 London Olympics.
Still, Skinner voiced her displeasure about failing to make the team. She retweeted some messages criticizing Douglas’ inclusion, and that included a tweet of her photoshopped over Douglas in the Team USA roster photo. Later, she would apologize for her actions.
Following the Olympics, Skinner elected to retire from elite gymnastics and focus on her NCAA career at Utah. She won gold medals at the NCAA Championships in 2017 (floor exercise) and 2018 (vault) and earned an all-around silver both years.
MyKayla Skinner’s return, bout with COVID
In 2019, Skinner elected to return to the world stage in hopes of making one last Olympic run. She tied for ninth place in the 2019 U.S. National Championships. In early 2020, she helped Team USA win gold at the International Gymnix meet in Montreal and was en route to making a run at an Olympic spot.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic came. Skinner, along with other gymnasts, were forced into a hiatus from the sport. And Skinner ended up catching the virus in December 2020.
“For two weeks I felt like I couldn’t move off the couch,” Skinner said of her bout with COVID, per KSL Sports. “I was sick, tired and exhausted. It was so weird having my body feel so weak, and there was nothing I could do about it.”
The 24-year-old credited her gymnastics family for supporting her while she battled the disease.
“I survived, but I wanted to give up so many times,” Skinner said during an interview with Today. “I was like, ‘I don’t even know if I can do this anymore.’ But I feel like just having these girls and my family having my back through it all has really helped me to get to where I am today.”
Skinner was out of action for six weeks. From there, she had just five months to round into form before the Olympic trials.
Despite the time crunch, she was able to make her mark at the 2021 U.S. Olympic trials. She didn’t ultimately make the team but she did earn an individual spot to compete in Tokyo.
Why MyKayla Skinner didn’t make the U.S. gymnastics team
Skinner finished fifth all-around at the trials. She was just 0.3 points behind Grace McCallum and was in the running for the fourth and final spot on the women’s gymnastics team.
However, it was McCallum who qualified for the fourth spot on the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. It was a close call, but ultimately, USA Gymnastics explained that they preferred to bring Skinner as an individual specialist.
“The Committee determined that MyKayla Skinner was the athlete with the greatest medal potential based on her vault performances scoring 15.000 or higher consistently, coupled with her fifth place all-around ranking in the final results from Olympic Trials,” the governing body wrote in a statement, per Deseret News. “In addition, MyKayla’s international competitiveness and experience, along with her high vault D-scores, compared to the top competitors from other countries, helped the committee determine that she would be selected to the individual +1 NOC quota place to Tokyo.”
The individual spots are a new, one-time addition to the Olympics, and they’re part of the reason that the squads have shrunk from five gymnasts to four. Essentially, being an individual just means that Skinner will be able to represent the United States in Tokyo but won’t be a part of team competition.
That’s no matter to Skinner. After all that she has been through, she’s just happy to finally get to live out her Olympic dreams.
“Even after last Olympics and being so close to it, I’m really glad that I never gave up my dream and I kept going,” Skinner said.