Gymnast MyKayla Skinner Was a Rio Olympics Alternate — Now, She's Competing in Tokyo

MyKayla Skinner is officially going to the Tokyo Olympics this summer as an individual gymnast. To recap, there were four US women's artistic gymnastics team spots up for grabs along with two separate spots reserved for athletes who will not be vying for a team gold but will compete, instead, for spots in the Olympic all-around and event finals. Jade Carey mathematically secured her individual berth last year, so that last individual spot was in question heading into the two-night Olympic Trials on June 25 and 27.

Skinner, 24, knows what it's like to contend for a position at the Olympics. 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.

Skinner had a rough start of the new year after contracting COVID-19 in December and being hospitalized for pneumonia. Her training efforts paid off, though, with a fifth-place finish in the all-around at Trials. "I survived," Skinner said on The Today Show of her Olympics comeback once being named an individual Olympic gymnast. "I mean, I wanted to give up so many times. I was like, 'I don't even know if I can do this anymore.'"

After three years competing on the collegiate level for the University of Utah, Skinner deferred her senior season to vie for a ticket to Tokyo. Though she is returning to school to finish up her degree once the Olympics are over, she will be retiring from the sport at the conclusion of the Games. She previously earned 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 was reportedly the longest in NCAA history.

Even though Skinner kept many difficult skills in her collegiate routines (she did a double-double backflip on floor as her first pass, for example), coming back to compete as an elite gymnast ultimately requires a lot of rigorous work. The training is more intense, yet Skinner did say that she's found balance and learned to cut back her practice hours. The routines also get more technical in the elite world (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 executing 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.

Skinner's coach, Lisa Spini of Desert Lights Gymnastics, told Arizona Republic back in 2019, "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." Skinner 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."

Skinner, who was also an alternate at the 2019 and 2015 World Gymnastics Championships, brings elements of collegiate gymnastics into elite competitions, like that over-exaggerated "college salute" and often encouraging the crowd to cheer. Ahead, check out some of Skinner's career highlights, and watch her compete on the world's biggest stages.

To learn more about all the Olympic hopefuls, visit The Tokyo Olympics begin July 23 on NBC.

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MyKayla Skinner on Floor at the 2014 World Gymnastics Championships

Skinner was a member of the 2014 World Championships team for the US. Also on the team were Simone Biles and Kyla Ross (2012 Olympian and a decorated UCLA gymnast). They won gold as a team, and Skinner placed third on vault. On the event seen here, floor, she placed fourth.

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MyKayla Skinner on Floor at the 2016 P&G Gymnastics Championships, Day 2

At the 2016 P&G Gymnastics Championships (otherwise known as Nationals), Skinner placed third on floor.

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MyKayla Skinner on Vault at the 2016 P&G Gymnastics Championships, Day 2

Watch Skinner on vault at the 2016 P&G Championships, where she finished second. She still does the same vaults today!

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MyKayla Skinner on Floor in 2017 For University of Utah, Pac-12 Championships

She got a perfect 10 here and has received three 10.00s total on floor during her three-year NCAA gymnastics career.

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MyKayla Skinner on Floor in 2018 For University of Utah

I just love her choice of floor music. (Catch that Beyoncé in the middle of it?)

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MyKayla Skinner on Vault at the 2019 US Gymnastics Championships, Day 1

Skinner does what's called an Amanar here, which is a round-off onto the springboard, a back handspring onto the vault, and two and a half twists off. It's very difficult because of the blind landing (you can't spot the ground when you land) and is something Biles also does. This one in particular is at the 2019 US Gymnastics Championships, where Skinner came in third place on vault.

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MyKayla Skinner on Floor at the 2019 US Gymnastics Championships, Day 2

One thing I really enjoy about this routine is the fact that she incorporates upbeat pop and dance-like music into it, which is not normally something you'd hear in these elite competitions. She placed fifth on floor at the US Gymnastics Championships in 2019.

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MyKayla Skinner on Bars at the 2019 US Gymnastics Championships, Day 1

As the commentators say here, Skinner is trying to pack a lot difficulty (skills to boost the start value of her routine) into this bar performance — a lot more than in collegiate gymnastics.

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MyKayla Skinner on Beam at the 2019 US Gymnastics Championships, Day 1

Skinner's first combination, a back handspring step-out to a full-twisting backflip, is extremely hard.

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MyKayla Skinner on Floor During Podium Training at the 2019 World Gymnastics Championships

Skinner went through a few days of podium training at 2019 Worlds before she was chosen as an alternate. Watch her warm up her floor routine in Stuttgart, Germany.

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MyKayla Skinner on Floor at the 2021 US Olympic Gymnastics Trials

Skinner's floor routine is full of difficult skills. For instance, she does a double-twisting double back layout as her first tumbling pass.

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MyKayla Skinner on Vault at the 2021 US Olympic Gymnastics Trials

Skinner was full of emotion after her vault performances on night two of the 2021 Olympic Trials. It was the end of her push to make the Olympic team, and her efforts paid off in the long run! Vault is a strength of hers and is an event to watch when she competes in Tokyo.