Meet the Collegiate Gymnast Who's Vying For a Spot in the 2020 Olympic Games
MyKayla Skinner knows what it's like to contend for a spot on the US Olympic Gymnastics team. In 2016, she flew to Rio, where the "Final Five" came out victorious, and stood by as an alternate along with Ragan Smith and Ashton Locklear, despite finishing fourth in the all-around at the Olympic Trials. She then spent three years competing on the collegiate level for the University of Utah. MyKayla won NCAA titles on floor exercise (2017) and vault (2018) and finished second in the all-around both years. According to Slate, the Arizona native also held a 161-routine hit streak, which is reportedly the longest in NCAA history. Now 22, she's deferred her senior year of college to vie for a spot on the Tokyo 2020 team.
Recently retired UCLA Gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field praised MyKayla's comeback when speaking to NBC at the 2019 US Gymnastics Championships in August. Commentator and Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin said during those championships that, in college, MyKayla trained once a day, but on the elite level, prepping for these bigger meets and the Olympics, it's two-a-day trainings most of the time.
Even though MyKayla kept many difficult skills in her collegiate routines (she did a double double on floor as her first pass, for example), coming back to compete as an elite ultimately requires a lot of rigorous work. The training is more intense, as Nastia mentioned. The routines also get more technical (for instance, she had to return to doing four tumbling passes on floor as opposed to the three she did in college gymnastics).
The scoring is a lot different, too — instead of college's perfect-10, elite gymnasts get a combined execution score and difficulty score. Therefore, it's not just about doing everything perfectly; it's about throwing hard skills to up your chances at seeing those big numbers. In college gymnastics, there's a greater emphasis on perfection because you'll see rankings differentiated by less than a tenth in most competitions. When you're competing on the national and international levels, you typically can't play it safe.
MyKayla's coach, Lisa Spini of Desert Lights Gymnastics, told Arizona Republic, "She would have made the [2016 Olympic] team in any other country in the world and should have made it in our country. She feels like she has unfinished business." MyKayla herself said, "While I love college gymnastics, I'd like to try and compete for my country. I see the opportunity to pursue an Olympic berth as a chance of a lifetime."
Most recently, she was selected to fly to Stuttgart, Germany, for the 2019 World Gymnastics Championships. When, the team was narrowed down after podium training from six to five, she was chosen as the alternate. The US women went on to win gold by almost six points. "Going back to five months ago, I never would have thought that I'd have this opportunity to be here, where I am right now," she told USA Gymnastics. "Even though I'm the alternate, I think it's still good to go out and have this experience again, going back into the elite world. So all in all it was just so fun being out there with the girls and I loved every minute of it." Ahead, check out some of MyKayla's gymnastics career highlights and watch her compete on the world's biggest stages.