The U.S. women are heavily favored to win team gold in Tokyo, shooting for their third consecutive Olympic title. They took the championship by a giant margin — more than eight points — at the 2016 Rio Olympics, when Simone Biles racked up four gold medals. As women’s gymnastics begins six days of competition with the qualifying round Sunday, the only question seems to be: How wide will the gap be this time?
The teams: A dozen nations will compete for the team title. They are divided into five subdivisions for Sunday’s qualifying round, with the U.S. and the Netherlands in Subdivision 3. Others in the race for the team championship are China, Russia, Japan, Italy, Great Britain, Canada, France, Spain, Germany and Belgium.
There also are 50 athletes competing as individuals. Many are from countries that did not qualify to send a full team, but for the Tokyo Games, top countries also were able to qualify up to two gymnasts as individual competitors.
The Americans have four Olympic team titles overall, but they have a long ways to go to catch the Soviet Union/Unified Team, which won 10 of 11 Olympic team championships from 1952-92.
The format: All gymnasts, whether competing as individuals or as part of a nation’s four-woman team, will participate in the qualifying round. In team qualifying, all four gymnasts can perform in each of the four events — vault, floor exercise, balance beam and uneven bars — with the top three scores counting toward the team total. The top eight teams move on to Tuesday’s team final, when three perform in each event and all three scores count.
Sunday’s qualifying also determines the 24 gymnasts who will move on to Thursday’s all-around competition and the eight who advance to the finals in each individual event. Though the U.S. could put several women in the top 24, a maximum of two per country can advance to the finals in both the all-around and individual event finals.
The U.S. team: Biles is so dominant she got her own emoji last week, a cartoon goat signifying her as the greatest of all time. In Tokyo, she could get another gymnastics skill named for her if she performs her Yurchenko double pike vault, which she did in a practice session last week. Biles, 24, came back for her second Olympics after winning five medals in Rio: gold in team, all-around, floor exercise and vault, and bronze on beam.
Suni Lee of St. Paul finished second to Biles in the all-around standings at last month’s Olympic trials. She actually outscored Biles on day two of the competition, something that no gymnast had done since 2013. A standout on bars, Lee performs a routine considered the most difficult in the world and is the favorite to win gold in that event. At the 2019 world championships, Lee reached the all-around finals, finishing eighth, and brought home medals in team (gold), floor exercise (silver) and bars (bronze).
McCallum, an Isanti native, was a discretionary pick for the Olympic team after a fourth-place finish at the trials. She’s a solid all-arounder who helped the U.S. to the team title at the past two world championships.
The team also includes Jordan Chiles, who trains with Biles in Texas and was third in the all-around at the trials. Jade Carey and MyKayla Skinner qualified as individuals and could add to a big medal haul for the Americans.
How to watch: The women’s gymnastics qualifying round will be streamed on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app, beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday night. The U.S. group will be shown live on the Peacock streaming service at 1:10 a.m. and be replayed during NBC’s primetime coverage that starts at 6 p.m. A Team USA tracker showing only the Americans’ routines will be available on NBCOlympics.com.