Simone Biles is the only sure thing for the USA gymnastics team

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Simple math shows how difficult it is to make the U.S. women’s gymnastics team for the Tokyo Olympics.

The United States can send up to six women to Tokyo – a team of four and two, potentially, as individuals. But one of the spots on the team goes to Simone Biles, who in addition to being the reigning world and Olympic champion happens to be the greatest gymnast of all time.

This means that there are really four guaranteed places available. And there are 29 women besides Biles fighting for them, starting with this week’s Nationals.

“It’s a little scary,” said Suni Lee, who has established herself as a contender for Tokyo with medals in floor exercise (silver) and uneven bars (bronze) in addition to team gold at the 2019 world championships, said Wednesday.

“It’s kind of hard to say who the team will be right now,” Lee said. “And having a bunch of new seniors, it’s a wider selection and it’s hard to say because everyone is so good. So you’re really all fighting for those four places.

If you were a fan of the Fierce Five or the Final Five and haven’t paid much attention to gymnastics beyond Biles for the past five years, you might be confused as to why he didn’t. there is only a team of four people. And what’s the story with the individual spots.

Do not worry. You’re not alone.

The former president of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) was in an eternal quest to make more room for specialists, gymnasts who only do a few events. So, team sizes were once again reduced for Tokyo from five to four, and the FIG created a complicated system to allocate those 12 extra spots.

To add to the confusion, countries have been allowed to claim up to two of these “individual” places – gymnasts who will still represent their country but not compete in the team competition.

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This was all a hot mess before COVID-19 turned everything upside down, and it’s even more so now. What you need to know is that the USA women have locked in an extra spot that USA Gymnastics can give to anyone, probably someone with medal potential in an individual event.

Jade Carey also unofficially earned a sixth-place finish, which is hers and hers alone, as the top jumper in a World Cup series. If Carey decided that she would rather make Team USA and secure one of those four spots, however, USA would lose their “individual” spot and only send a total of five women to Tokyo.

Regardless of how many gymnasts the Americans end up sending to Tokyo, the big question remains who they will be. Except for Biles, of course.

“Looking back at 2016…you kind of knew who the best players were,” said Rio substitute MyKayla Skinner. “Now it’s kind of like I feel like everyone is struggling through something. So we’re all trying to go out there and do our best and hopefully , to be in that top four. It’s gonna be kind of crazy to see how this all pans out, because I feel like there’s a good chance it’s two different girl groups that are in of this Olympic team.

Only the first two at the Olympic trials, which take place from June 24 to 27, are guaranteed to make the Tokyo team. The other two team members will be chosen based on a variety of factors, including their combined results at this week’s Trials and Nationals, and the needs of the team.

All four gymnasts will compete in qualifying in Tokyo, with teams giving up their lowest score in each event. But for the team finals, only three gymnasts compete in each event and the three scores count. While Biles is the ultimate safety blanket, Americans have yet to find a combination that gives them two stronger scores for every event.

In 2012 and 2016, the team was already obvious enough to participate in the national championships, with the possible exception of one gymnast. But gymnasts have barely competed in the past 18 months because of COVID-19, making it impossible to really know who is going to be a factor this summer and who isn’t.

Add to that injuries to some of America’s top women – Lee, Skinner, Riley McCusker are either nursing injuries or recently recovered – and you’d probably have just as much luck predicting the team throwing darts at a game of darts right now.

“I try not to focus too much on what can happen next month,” said Kayla DiCello, the 2019 U.S. junior champion who shone through with a third-place finish at the U.S. Classic last month. “I’m just focusing on what I’m doing right now.”

Good plan. Right now, the only certainty for American women is that nothing is certain.

Follow USA TODAY sports columnist Nancy Armor on Twitter @nrarmour.

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