In early February 2013, MyKayla Skinner debuted the world’s first double-twisting double layout on floor.
Out of my excitement over this skill – and her floor routine overall – I begged the gym gods for her inclusion on the World Championships team a full seven or eight months later in the year, compared her to Alicia Sacramone for hitting her stride the year after turning 16, and fangirled my face off because I love athletes who take crazy risks. People said I was wrong, but I’m pretty stubborn and insisted it would happen.
Eighteen months later, she’s done it. She’s won international gold on vault, floor, and in the all-around. She’s grown in her experience, consistency, and even in her technique. And tonight, Skinner was named to the 2014 U.S. World Championships team that will compete in Nanning, China from October 3-12.
No, she’s not perfect, and I get why people want to criticize some of her skills, but there are more reasons to like an athlete outside of the most amazing execution. I am a fan of uniqueness, of perseverance, and of being a badass. Skinner is awesome, and inn honor of her achievement, here’s the piece I wrote about her for The Couch Gymnast in February 2013.
Mykayla Skinner’s Ticket to Worlds? by Lauren Hopkins, February 11, 2013
It’s definitely a bit early to make World Championship team predictions for the always deep Team USA.
Of course, there are those who look set to claim their spots: most fans expect 2012 Olympic gold medalist Kyla Ross to follow in the footsteps of Bridget Sloan with buckets full of post-Olympic success, Elizabeth Price is fresh in everyone’s minds after her two World Cup gold medals last fall, and first year seniors Lexie Priessman and Katelyn Ohashi have spent the past few years chomping at the bit with start values and competitive abilities that matched those competing in London last summer.
But recall 2009, when the 16-year-old Kayla Williams burst onto the scene completely at random. Over a six month period, Williams qualified to the elite ranks, made it to National Championships, was named to the U.S. national team, earned a spot on the four-member World Championship team, and became World vault champion. No one could have predicted Williams’ flash of international success this far ahead of Worlds because frankly, no one knew who Williams was at this point in the year.
Like Williams in 2009, the name MyKayla Skinner probably isn’t on your radar. Skinner, who trains at Desert Lights Gymnastics, qualified as a junior elite for the first time in 2009 (she actually started the year as a first-year level 9 competitor, but the talented 12-year-old moved up to level 10 after just one competition; by that summer, she was competing as an elite). In 2011, Skinner made the U.S. junior national team after placing tenth in the all-around and second on vault, as one of only two juniors competing an Amanar at the time. Skinner earned her first international spot in 2012 as a member of the senior squad representing Team USA at the City of Jesolo Trophy, and she competed once again at U.S. Nationals in 2012, where she placed fifteenth in the all-around after multiple falls on the second day of competition.
Now 16 and a Utah commit for the 2015-2016 season, Skinner plans on competing elite again this summer with the ultimate goal of landing a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team. Her name has entered fan discussion several times over the past few months after videos of her training a Cheng vault (a Yurchenko half-on, laid-out 1.5 off) and a double-twisting double layout on floor surfaced on Facebook, though many questioned her ability to compete these incredibly difficult skills.
This weekend, Skinner debuted her brand new floor routine at the Fiesta Bowl, her gym’s annual invitational, in Chandler, Arizona.
Skinner successfully landed an incredible double-twisting double layout followed almost immediately by a double-twisting double tuck in her first two passes; though she sat her double Arabian in the third pass, she came close to hitting, landing just a tad bit short and recovering well enough to nail her 1.5 through to 2.5 to finish. No other woman in the world competes a floor routine with this combination of difficulty, and Skinner has the additional unique distinction of being the only woman to compete the epic double layout with a double twist; in fact, it’s rare to compete the same skill with a full twist. (For the record, Skinner earned a 9.3 this weekend with the fall, a huge score for J.O. competition.)
With the World Championship format in the post-Olympic year lacking a team competition, federations will instead want to send four gymnasts who can dominate in the all-around and event finals. In 2009, U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi sent two strong all-arounders and two event specialists, all of whom medaled in at least one of their respective finals.
It seems Skinner’s coaches are playing it incredibly smart this year by putting this extra emphasis on her vault and floor; a floor routine like this in addition to her already solid Amanar and a potential Cheng on vault (likely the highest-valued set of vaults currently competed by women in the sport) means she could easily take the spot on the team designated for a specialist, much like Williams was able to capitalize on her special skills in 2009. She’s clearly proven she has the ability to compete some of the most difficult skills in the world, so I’d imagine her coaches will want to spend the six months leading up to Nationals with a focus on nailing the details, especially on vault where the new scoring format for event finals emphasizes execution over difficulty.
Skinner actually reminds me a bit of a young Alicia Sacramone; a strong vaulter as a sixteen-year-old in 2004, Sacramone’s inconsistencies as a competitor greatly limited her as an all-arounder (she placed 19th at the 2004 U.S. Nationals, compared to Skinner’s 15th place ranking last year) and kept her out of the running for a spot on the Olympic team. Last summer, Sacramone laughed about her performances in 2004, calling her younger self totally clueless (“I had no idea what I was doing!”) and mentally not ready for the rigors of elite gymnastics. She emerged in 2005, however, as a frontrunner for the U.S. team, competing in several World Cup events in addition to winning bronze on vault and gold on floor at World Championships, marking only the beginning of an eight-year stretch throughout which she won ten World Championship medals and an Olympic silver medal before retiring earlier this year.
While most elite gymnasts peak around sixteen, Sacramone proved that age and maturity can also make you so much better and stronger as a competitor. Now that Skinner’s a little older and has four years of elite experience under her belt, she can use it to her advantage. With her new competitive edge combined with one of the most difficult sets of routines the world will see this year, Skinner should have no problem catching Karolyi’s attention. If she hits when it counts, she’ll easily punch her ticket to Worlds…maybe not this year, especially if McKayla Maroney’s comeback goes as planned, but she’ll be there or maybe even at the Olympics someday. Just wait.
Article by Lauren Hopkins