Simone Biles leads U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team; rookie Hezly Rivera takes fifth

MINNEAPOLIS – Just a week ago, Alicia Sacramone Quinn was worrying about the agonizing decision she and her two colleagues would have to make to determine the 2024 Olympic team. A crowded field, tons of questions and too many options made Quinn, the strategic leader of the national team, feared having to do his job.

It turns out that he just needs to return to the Tokyo team.

The United States will send four members of its 2020 Olympic team to Paris — Simone Biles, Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles and Jade Carey — reserving a singular spot for a rookie. That went to the youngest rookie of all, 16-year-old Hezly Rivera, who just became senior eligible this year.

He took fifth and final place in what was the only wild card decision heading into the final day. This undoubtedly gave Quinn and his committee the angst they anticipated, the fierce battle between a large number of competitors.

But the United States needs more help on balance beam and uneven bars and Rivera’s scores there (13.70 and 14.025) were better than any other competitor.

She also finished fifth in the all-around, allowing her to easily pick the winning team. The five women chosen were also the top five in the all-around. Rivera seemed calm. In the stands, her father was crying.

“Honestly, it was pretty easy,” Quinn said of the selection. He added Rivera’s solid routines in trials and His ability especially to hit bars and beams. Quinn also admitted that the committee considered the benefit of adding the teenager now, with future Olympics in mind.


Meet Hezly Rivera, gymnast who will make her Olympic debut alongside veterans

It is, without a doubt, a star-studded team, packed with one-name celebrity athletes who time and time again brought fans to their feet in raptures.

Of course, the biggest star is Biles. As he finished his routine to end his tryout competition, his family sitting in section 109 stood up, and the rest of the Target Center quickly joined them. His routine wasn’t perfect (he went out of bounds) and neither was his night. She also fell from the beam.

But three years after leaving the Olympics and spending two full years away from the sport she came to define, Biles’ astonishing athleticism and gravity-defying ability are perhaps even better than before.

At 27, she is the oldest American gymnast since the 1950s, a reality that made her smile when it was relayed to her.

“I knew it wasn’t over after Tokyo,” Biles said, adding that her Thursday “religious” meetings with her therapist helped her get through it. “I went back to the gym, I trusted the process, I knew she would come back.”

Of course, it was Biles’ decision to retire from competition in 2021 that changed the entire tenor of the team’s plan in Tokyo. What seemed like a foregone conclusion (a historic triplet as team gold medalists) fell apart in the floor exercise, where costly mistakes gave the Russians victory. The United States took the silver.

Redemption, then, may seem like an easy narrative; it’s not necessarily accurate. This team may include most of the same names that represented the United States in Tokyo.

However, they are no longer the same women. Biles has repeatedly spoken about how she doesn’t want to prove anything to anyone and that this Olympic quest is about her and her definition of success.

“No one is making me do it,” Biles said. “I wake up every day and choose to train in the gym. That is my reason… Success depends on me.”

The same can be said for each of his returning teammates.

They’ve all been through some things: self-doubt, injury, illness, and in some cases, a combination of all three. They’ve learned that making it to the Olympics doesn’t mean you’ve made it, and that a Team USA jacket isn’t, in fact, body armor. It doesn’t protect you or make you immune to struggles.

Other than Biles, none of the four repeat Olympians arrived in Minneapolis assured of a return to the Games. Some people worried that the name recognition of the old guard could complicate a selection process in which younger Olympians and aspiring rookies might be more deserving.

Some of them were self-selected. Skye Blakely and Kayla DiCello both ruptured their Achilles tendons, and Shilese Jones withdrew from a knee injury sustained during warmups on the first day of competition. The injuries were cruel, coming so close to the Olympic dream, but they also served as a stark reminder that one person’s disappointment often leads to another’s opportunity.

go deeper


At the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials, a series of injuries looms over a key moment

It turns out that the United States is lucky that none of the women who returned to the Games gave up. Because every single one of them, frankly, could have done it.

Carey, who won gold on floor in Tokyo, returns to Paris after putting together an incredibly demanding double. Instead of taking a year off from Oregon State, she opted to compete collegiately and train for the Olympics. She stayed because the college world worked for her.

An introvert and horrible self-critic, Carey nearly withdrew from her last Olympics after stumbling on her way to the vault table during the event final, failing to medal in one of her best events. Only a pep talk from her father convinced her to return to the track final, where she won gold.

But at Oregon State, she found a community in the team aspect that made her a stronger gymnast. “The missing piece,” her father and coach, Brian, said of the Oregon State experience.

Staying wasn’t easy. College gymnastics doesn’t demand the same level of difficulty as elite gymnastics, and performing those routines during the most intense college career isn’t just dangerous; it’s foolhardy. But Carey still had to fine-tune all of her sets, which meant a lot more time in the gym, not to mention a demanding schedule.

On April 20, she finished second in the NCAA overall standings. Nine days later, she won the American Classic All-Around.

The gymnast who competed in Minneapolis, however, is decidedly better for the effort. Known for her floor and vault, she was consistent on all four events over two days. But she is known for her powerful floor routine, perhaps the only one that can come close to matching Biles.

His was the last of the night and he finished with a huge smile on his face before high-fiving his father and coach, Brian.

Like Carey, Chiles didn’t have the Olympic experience she imagined. Forced to serve on bars and beam after Biles withdrew, she did well, but a fall to the floor and a step out of bounds contributed to the team’s failure to capture gold. Afterward, she enrolled at UCLA, built her brand with endorsements but always thought about returning to the Olympics.

That didn’t go well either.

Chiles was not selected for the 2023 World Cup and a shoulder injury has slowed her participation this season. She finished fifth at the U.S. Championships earlier this month and arrived in Minneapolis as anything but a sure thing. Some of that got into her head.

On the eve of the first day of competition, she scolded herself for overthinking and purposely changed her attitude. She criticized some of her favorite female artists, including Megan Thee Stallion and Beyonce, and told herself, “If these girls can slay like that, I can go out there and slay like them.”

And then she did it. Aside from contracting the balance beam plague that plagued many of her teammates, Chiles nailed one solid routine after another.

As she pumped her arms overhead, the final move of her floor routine, Chiles’ face fell. She stood up, fighting back tears, as the last of her doubts were erased. After the competition ended, the human publicity machine ran up the vault ramp, toying with the audience.

“Of course gold is the goal,” Chiles said. “But this redemption tour is not about that. It’s about us. “We all went through a lot in Tokyo and I am very proud to be back.”

Frankly, no one had more doubts than Lee. She was diagnosed with two separate kidney diseases and was only given the all-clear in January to return to training. The reigning Olympic gold medalist spent many days trying to find the energy to hit the gym, all the while wondering if she would ever be good enough to reach Olympic level again.

She competed at the Winter Cup in February, but only on bars and beam; she competed on beam, vault and floor at Core Hydration in April. She finally got an all-around result last month, finishing fourth. Even with Blakely and Jones as options, Lee’s best chance at the Olympics seemed to be as a beam and bars specialist.

Instead, Lee finished second in the all-around behind Biles and has a strong chance of winning a medal again in Paris. Her series on the uneven bars was so unique that the crowd “ohed” and “ahed” with each release move, and Lee waved with joy after her dismount.

Her only hiccup was on the balance beam, where a fall and a major fracture left her angry. She left the competition floor after dismounting, outpacing her coach, Jess Graba, and exiting through the tunnel. But Lee, whose illness has robbed her of confidence at times, nailed both the floor and the vault.

Overcome with emotion, Lee choked back sobs in an interview after the reunion. “I didn’t think I’d be here,” she said to cheers from the crowd. She stepped away from the microphone as Chiles wiped tears from her eyes. She later added: “Everything has been hitting me like a fucking roller coaster. I haven’t stopped crying since. I’m so, so glad I moved on. There were so many times I thought about quitting this sport.”

And then, of course, there’s Biles. There probably won’t be another athlete in Paris under more scrutiny than her. After retiring in Tokyo, she spoke candidly about her mental health struggles, forcing a much-needed conversation and allowing other athletes to speak openly about her need to prioritize themselves over the sport.

But Biles also took a nearly two-year break from competition, leaving many to speculate whether she was done with gymnastics. It wasn’t as if she owed anything to the sport, or anyone. She was already the most decorated gymnast in history, a two-time Olympian and four-time gold medalist.

She returned in 2023, not only not rusty, but perhaps even stronger and better than before. As always, Biles won every competition she entered: the US Classic (twice), Worlds, US Championships (twice) and Trials. She didn’t just win here.

She dominated, a difference of 5.55 separating her from Lee, which is practically a cannon in the world of gymnastics.

None of them, however, are the Olympic Games. And while, as Biles heads to Paris with well-known teammates, everything may seem the same, it’s actually completely different.

Required reading

(Photo: Matt Krohn/USA Today)

Leave a Comment