Olympic gymnastics qualifying, explained: Why only three USA gymnasts will compete for individual medals

The U.S. women’s gymnastics team didn’t have the cleanest qualifying at the 2021 Olympics. Jordan Chiles had some slips and falls, and even Simone Biles incurred a rare 0.3-point penalty during her floor exercise routine.

Nonetheless, the United States performed well enough in qualifying: Team USA easily made it into the team competition despite its off day, and will have two gymnasts representing the country in each of the individual events during the competition.

That said, gymnastics has some safeguards in place to ensure one country doesn’t completely dominate the finals in any one event. So while the U.S. women posted some of the best scores in each of the individual events and all-around qualifiers, only a few of them earned the right to compete in those finals at the Olympics.

Here’s why only Biles, Suni Lee and Jade Carey will compete for individual medals after the 2021 Olympic gymnastics qualifiers:

MORE: Meet MyKayla Skinner, who had a long road to live our her Olympic dreams

How gymnastics qualifications work for 2021 Olympics

There are two types of gymnastics qualifying at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The first is team qualifying, during which the four gymnasts on each national team participate in each of the four events: floor, vault, uneven bars and beam. The three highest scores in each event are taken into account for the team score, and the eight highest-scoring teams advance to the team final.

The United States (170.562) finished second to the Russian Olympic Committee (171.629) by 1.067 points in qualifying, easily advancing to the eight-team final.

Individual qualifying is a bit different. In total, 24 gymnasts will be chosen to compete for the all-around title, and eight will be chosen to participate in the finals for each of the four events. The top-scoring qualifiers advance to the event finals.

However, because of what’s known as the “two per” rule, no country can have more than two gymnasts participate in each event final, including the all-around final. For example, American gymnast MyKayla Skinner posted the fourth-highest score on the vault (14.866), but scored lower than teammates Biles (15.183) and Carey (15.166), the top two finishers in the event. So, despite Skinner performing better than several other gymnasts, she didn’t qualify because of the two per rule.

The two per rule played a big role in Team USA seeing just three of its six gymnasts earn a chance to participate in event finals. So too did Biles’ ability to qualify in every event, as it limited the available spots for Team USA’s other five gymnasts.

All-around

GymnastCountryScore
Simone BilesUnited States57.731
Rebecca AndradeBrazil57.399
Suni LeeUnited States57.166
Angelina MelnikovaRussian Olympic Committee57.132
Vladislava UrazovaRussian Olympic Committee57.099
Nina DerwaelBelgium56.598
Xijing TangChina56.432
Mélanie de Jesus dos SantosFrance55.431
Jessica GadirovaGreat Britain55.199
Yufei LuChina55.066
Zsofia KovacsHungary54.732
Jennifer GadirovaGreat Britain54.699
Carolann HeduitFrance54.299
Elisabeth SeitzGermany54.232
Alice D’AmatoItaly54.199
Roxana PopaSpain54.099
Brooklyn MoorsCanada53.966
Mai MurikamiJapan53.965
Elisabeth BlackCanada53.699
Jutta VerkestBelgium53.632
Martina MaggioItaly53.566
Yunseo LeeSouth Korea53.540
Giulia SteingruberSwitzerland53.533
Kim BuiGermany53.398

Biles and Lee posted two of the top three scores among competitors to earn the right to represent the United States in the all-around competition. Three other American gymnasts placed within the top 24 and would’ve earned the right to represent the country if not for the two per rule: Carey (56.265) finished ninth, Skinner (55.398) finished 11th and Grace McCallum (55.165) finished 13th among the 80 gymnasts to finish the all-around competition.

Chiles was the only American gymnast who didn’t make the top 24. She finished in 40th place with a mark of 52.698 during qualifying.

Floor

GymnastCountryScore
Vanessa FerrariItaly14.166
Simone BilesUnited States14.133
Jade CareyUnited States14.100
Rebecca AndradeBrazil14.066
Jessica GadirovaGreat Britain14.033
Viktoriia ListunovaRussian Olympic Committee14.000
Angelina MelnikovaRussian Olympic Committee14.000
Mai MurakamiJapan13.933

The floor exercise leaderboard held to form, as the top eight gymnasts from qualifying made it through. Biles and Carey earned the right to represent the United States in this event while Chiles, Skinner, McCallum and Lee finished 13th, 14th, 16th and 18th, respectively.

Vault

GymnastCountryScore
Simone BilesUnited States15.183
Jade CareyUnited States15.166
Rebecca AndradeBrazil15.100
Seojeong YeoSouth Korea14.800
Shallon OlsenCanada14.699
Liliia AkhaimovaRussian Olympic Committee14.699
Alexa MorenoMexico14.633
Angelina MelnikovaRussian Olympic Committee14.616

Carey and Skinner, the two individual competitors for Team USA at the Olympics, fought hard to earn a spot in the vault final. But it was Carey who ultimately came out on top. She trailed Biles by a mere .017 points in her quest for the top spot.

Meanwhile, Skinner finished with the fourth-highest score on the vault, a mark of 14.866; but, again, the two per rule kept her from participating in the vault final.

Uneven bars

GymnastCountryScore
Nina DerwaelBelgium15.366
Suni LeeUnited States15.200
Anastasiia IliankovaRussian Olympic Committee14.966
Angelina MelnikovaRussian Olympic Committee14.933
Yufei LuChina14.700
Elisabeth SeitzGermany14.700
Yilin FanChina14.600
Simone BilesUnited States14.566

This was the only event where the two per rule had a positive impact for Team USA. The Russian Olympic Committee dominated this event and placed four finishers in the top six. Only Iliankova and Melnikova advanced, allowing Biles — the 10th-place finisher in the event — to make the uneven bars final. That will give her a chance to compete for a gold medal in each of the four individual events, the all-around competition and the team competition.

Beam

GymnastCountryScore
Chenchen GuanChina14.933
Xijing TangChina14.333
Suni LeeUnited States14.200
Larisa Andreea IordacheRomania14.133
Elisabeth BlackCanada14.100
Simone BilesUnited States14.066
Vladislava UrazovaRussian Olympic Committee14.000
Flavia SaraivaBrazil13.966

The beam final only saw one player in the top 10, China’s Yufei Lu, eliminated because of the two-per rule. This had no impact on Team USA, as Lee and Biles were both among the top seven performers. Team USA’s next highest finisher, Skinner, finished well outside the qualifying range, in 27th place.

As a result of these qualifying results, only three members of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team have earned the right to compete for individual gold medals: Biles, Lee and Carey. Chiles and McCallum will be limited to the team event, while Skinner’s bid for an Olympic medal has come to an end.

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