February 5, 2024 – 11:43 AM PST
KATY, Texas (Reuters) – Making the U.S. gymnastics team for the Paris Games is harder than ever before and the squad that is ultimately selected could be the most successful ever at the Olympics, athletes vying to make the cut said this week.
All-around Olympic champions Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee — who claimed the women’s top individual prize in 2012, 2016 and 2021 respectively — and youngsters Joscelyn Roberson and Tiana Sumanasekera are among those hoping for a place on the five-member team, which will be named at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Minneapolis in late June.
“This will be one of the best teams the United States has ever had and one of the best teams that the world has ever seen,” Roberson, who will be celebrating her 18th birthday later this week, said at a media event near Houston on Sunday.
“The United States could make three teams and they would all be amazing. The depth this year is insane and unlike any other.”
The squad brings to mind the gold medal winning “Dream Team” – the 1992 U.S. men’s basketball team that included Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
Leading the way for the U.S. is Biles, the four-time Olympic gold medalist who has transcended the sport.
She is looking to dominate the sport once again after she dropped out of several events at the Tokyo Games due to “the twisties,” a type of mental block where gymnasts are disoriented mid-air.
After a two-year hiatus, Biles returned to competition last August at the U.S. Classic. She proved that she remained the sport’s dominant force, winning the all-around then weeks later she won a record eighth all-around title at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships.
At last year’s world championships in Belgium she won four golds, including a record equalling sixth all-around crown.
“She’s an icon, a legend, a GOAT for sure,” said Jordan Chiles, who stepped in for Biles in Tokyo and won silver medal in the team event.
“She’s the Michael Jordan of gymnastics, she’s what Serena Williams is to tennis. She has changed the culture of this sport.”
Despite the intense pressure that comes with trying to make the team, 16-year-old Sumanasekera said the athletes support each other and truly enjoy their time together in the gym.
“It’s extremely fun,” she said.
“We’re a very silly group of girls. We love to crack jokes with each other and Simone and Zoe (Miller) are the funniest duo ever.
“Whenever we are having a hard day, they are there to crack a joke and make us laugh even if I am crying.
“It’s just amazing to have team mate that we’re so fond of and so similar to. Being in that environment is something I’m always looking forward to.”
Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles, editing by Pritha Sarkar