Sunisa Lee. Jade Carey. Rebeca Andrade. Angelina Melnikova. With the news that Simone Biles has withdrawn from Thursday’s all-around competition at the Tokyo Olympics, these are some of the names to keep an eye on.
Looking for a nail-biting, couch-clutching, (insert three more clichés here) competition?
Well, you’re in luck. This is shaping up to be exactly that. Here’s what to know.
Who will compete instead of Simone Biles?
With top qualifier and defending Olympic champion Biles out, U.S. gymnast Jade Carey now gets the nod. Carey placed ninth out of the field of 80 in the all-around in qualifications, but because of the much-despised two-per-country rule, she originally did not advance to final. With Biles out, Carey becomes the second American behind Lee.
The field of 24 gymnasts is made up of the top scorers from preliminaries, with that max of two gymnasts from any one country.
Who is Jade Carey?
Glad you asked. She is an extremely talented gymnast who qualified as an individual to compete in Tokyo (more on that here), so you didn’t see her in the team final. She has often been considered a vault and floor specialist, but has peaked just at the right time for these Games, putting up an impressive score on bars (14.133) in addition to her vault and floor scores in qualifications, and finishing, as mentioned earlier, ninth in the standings.
Her best events, however, are definitely vault and floor: On floor, she has garnered buzz by attempting a triple-twisting double layout in training for the U.S. nationals. She has not competed it during the Olympics, but if she does, it would be named the Carey and rated as more difficult than any other skill in the gymnastics Code of Points.
Should I be watching Sunisa Lee?
Yes. In fact, do not take your eyes off any of her routines. Lee qualified in third and was always a medal contender, but she now is a gold-medal contender. She is absolutely world-class on uneven bars, where she put up a stunning 15.400 in team finals under immense pressure. Her opening release combination on bars — if she connects it all — is simply unfathomable for most gymnasts. It’s hard to find the right superlatives to describe how difficult it is, and her score there gives her a big boost in in the all-around competition.
She is also the first Hmong American to make the U.S. Olympic team, and she has an incredibly close relationship with her dad, who became paralyzed in an accident in 2019 and is unable to be in Tokyo due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
How does the competition format work?
All gymnasts will compete on all four events: vault, bars, beam and floor. The scores from qualifications are erased, so the highest total Thursday is the winner. Simple, right?
Well … not really, because of this …
Who will win?
The top four gymnasts who will be competing on Thursday all finished within three-tenths of a point of each other in qualifications.
This is an Olympic title any of them can win.
Lee is a lead contender. As is Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade, who surprised many by finishing second to Biles in qualifying. She earned a 15.400 for her Cheng vault, and is equally powerful on floor, where she does a sky-high full-twisting double layout — in her second tumbling pass.
But don’t forget the Russian Olympic Committee team. Angelina Melnikova and Vladislava Urazova were fourth and fifth, respectively, and the ROC gymnasts have been on fire in Tokyo. Their bar routines are especially stellar, and they have high-level difficulty across the board.
While they finished a little out of that top group in prelims, Belgium’s Nina Derwael (two-time world champion on bars), China’s Tang Xijing (2019 world all-around silver medalist) and France’s Melanie de Jesus dos Santos (2021 European champion on beam) could also sneak onto the podium if things go their way.