After removing herself from the women's team finals and the individual all-around competition, Simone Biles — America's most accomplished gymnast — announced late Friday she would not compete in the uneven bars or vault at the Tokyo games. In her stead stands 24-year-old MyKayla Skinner, who will compete in the vault finals so her friend can focus on her mental health.
Skinner had all but packed her bags before Biles decided to step back from another portion of the Olympics. But on Friday, USA Gymnastics announced that Skinner, who ranked fourth for the vault during qualifications, would compete alongside Jade Carey in the event Sunday.
"Looks like I get to put a competition Leo on just one more time. Can't wait to compete in vault finals," Skinner announced on social media. "Doing this for us @Simone_Biles. ... It's go time baby!"
Five days earlier, Skinner lamented in an Instagram post that her time as an elite-level gymnast was coming to a close. She has been competing for over a decade and began doing gymnastics around age 3.
"The sport of gymnastics hasn't been kind to me over the years," she wrote. Nevertheless, Skinner said she's proud to have been an icon for others.
Despite being a world-class competitor — including a first-place finish for the all-around at the 2016 Glasgow World Cup — she was selected as an alternate for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The elite-level of competition gradually drove her to resent the sport, her Olympic bio said.
After the 2016 games, Skinner could have ridden the coattails of the gold-medal team, despite her position as an alternate, by accepting a paid position as a professional. But doing so would have left her unable to compete at the college level, the Salt Lake Tribune reported in 2017. She said the money she would have made paled in comparison to a college degree.
She began her freshman year at the University of Utah in 2017, where she rediscovered her love for gymnastics. She went on to become NCAA gold medalist on the vault and floor and brought home the silver for the all-around. Skinner also made the dean's least and the athletic director's honor roll her junior year.
In 2019, Skinner decided to defer her senior year so she could prepare for the 2020 summer games. She left Utah for her home state of Arizona to train, but vowed to return to finish her degree in communications after the Olympics, the Salt Lake Tribune reported in 2019.
But the COVID-19 pandemic put the 2020 Olympics on hold, forcing athletes to train for an additional year before the games ultimately began in late July. In December, Skinner injured her Achilles, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. One month later, she was hospitalized for a week after catching the coronavirus and pneumonia, which cost her more than a month of training leading up to the Olympic trials.
As of Saturday, the United States is tied with Japan for second place in women's gymnastics, having secured one gold and one silver medal. The women trail behind the Russian Olympic Committee, which has won two gold and two bronze medals thus far. Competition resumes Sunday with the uneven bars and vault finals, where Skinner will have her last chance to take home Olympic gold before hanging up her leotard for good.