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5 Texans to watch at U.S. gymnastics Olympic trials: Simone Biles leads crowd of locals toward Tokyo

USA Gymnastics will select its men’s and women’s Olympic teams this weekend in St. Louis.
Simone Biles and Jordan Chiles pose after being named to the US National Gymnastics team following the Senior Women’s competition of the U.S. Gymnastics Championships at Dickies Arena on June 06, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas.(Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

By Callie Caplan

The U.S. Olympic gymnastics teams often include at least one athlete who trains in Texas.

Expect that trend to continue this summer.

This week, gymnasts from across the country will gather at the U.S. gymnastics Olympic trials in St. Louis.

The men’s national team will compete Thursday and Saturday; the women’s squad on Friday and Sunday. Both will name their respective Olympic teams about a half-hour after their second meet.

The stakes are even higher this cycle — and not only because the coronavirus pandemic postponement added an extra year of disjointed training.

Each team will include just four gymnasts, down from five at the 2012 and 2016 Games, six from 2000-08 and seven before that. The women will send an additional two individual Olympians — who will represent the U.S. but not contribute in team competitions — and the men will select one.

Several Texans are prime candidates to represent the U.S. this summer.

Some are obvious. (We’re looking at you, Simone Biles).

Others are under-the-radar candidates hoping to make strong final impressions in front of a national TV audience at the trials.

Here’s a look at five gymnasts with Texas ties who are in the mix.

Simone Biles

Any list about gymnastics would be incomplete without the 24-year-old Biles, a Spring resident who’s widely viewed as the greatest gymnast of all time. Biles, who won five medals, including four gold, at the 2016 Rio Olympics, will officially make her second Olympic team this weekend. Watch for Biles to show off some of her unprecedented new moves — a Yurchenko double pike vault and triple-twisting, double-flipping tumbling pass — in St. Louis as her final test before she re-takes the Olympic stage.

Skye Blakely

Blakely, a 16-year-old who trains at World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in Frisco, wouldn’t have qualified to Olympic trials if not for the coronavirus pandemic postponement. She just became age eligible (16 years old) in 2021 and has capitalized on her surprise opportunity this year. Look for Blakely to stand out on balance beam, where her routine features some of the country’s highest difficulty, and as a steady all-around contender.

Jordan Chiles

Chiles, a Vancouver, Washington, native, has trained near Houston at Biles’ World Champions Centre gym since 2019. Often overlooked for international competition assignments early in her senior elite career, Chiles, 20, has appeared confident, steady and dominant in 2021 and placed third all-around at the national championships earlier this month in Fort Worth. While not as much of a guarantee for an Olympic berth like Biles, Chiles is a near lock to make the squad if she has smooth performances this weekend.

Emma Malabuyo

Malabuyo’s family moved to the Dallas area two weeks after her 11th birthday because her former coach in California said she showed promise and thought she should pursue the elite level at Texas Dreams Gymnastics in Coppell. Now, Malabuyo is 18 years old, forged by rounds of hardship in recent years, and making a dark-horse push to be part of the U.S. team. If she has a similar two-day performance to her fourth all-around finish at the national championships, Malabuyo could be in prime position to travel to Tokyo.

Colin Van Wicklen

Van Wicklen, a Magnolia native who trains at the University of Oklahoma, is a relative unknown entering the trials. He was part of the 2018 world championships team, but hasn’t competed this season because of adrenal fatigue. He earned his invitation to the Olympic trials via a petition after the national championships. If he has strong showings on his best events — high bar, vault and floor exercise — Van Wicklen could complement the specialties of the men’s Olympic team front-runners well.

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