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U.S. gymnastics Olympic trials take place in Minneapolis

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

It is less than a month until the start of the Paris Summer Olympics, where we are likely to see one of the greatest athletes of our times continue her dominance. The gymnast Simone Biles is in top shape at this weekend's Olympic trials in Minneapolis. And the U.S. men's team is one to watch as well. I'm joined now by NPR sports correspondent Becky Sullivan, who is in Minneapolis. Hey, Becky.

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Hey there.

DETROW: So let's start with the men. Their second day of competition is today, and the team will be set after that. Tell us about some of the guys we'll likely be seeing in Paris.

SULLIVAN: OK, I'm going to tell you about two guys. The first is veteran Brody Malone. He's 24. He's just a terrific all-around contender. And this year, he is making a big comeback after he sustained a knee injury during a competition last year while he was doing a horizontal bar routine, and the landing went wrong. And you can still see the effects of it. He still performs in a brace when he's performing the floor routine. And he said that even with that prior Olympic experience, he says there's just been so much pressure at these trials.

BRODY MALONE: For a lot of us, it's the biggest competition of our lives. I mean, even us that have been to the Olympics before, I mean, we want to go again. The nerves - and the nerves are still there for sure.

SULLIVAN: So he's one. Another one of the newcomers that he's talking about is Fred Richard. He's 20 years old. He's a student at the University of Michigan. He actually might be more well known than Brody Malone because he is big on social media. He's got about 1 million followers between his TikTok and his Instagram. He's been looking fantastic. Both of these guys are hoping to be part of kind of, like, a comeback for the U.S. men at the Olympics, which got totally blanked on medals in 2020.

DETROW: And the women's side, the big story, as it's been for the past decade, of course, is Simone Biles.

SULLIVAN: (Laughter) Of course.

DETROW: People will probably remember she really struggled the last Olympics. She pulled out of some events, but she's back.

SULLIVAN: Yep.

DETROW: She's in top form.

SULLIVAN: That's exactly right. So yeah, in 2021, she got what she called the twisties (ph), which is sort of where you lose track of your body in midair. It's really dangerous for a gymnast. And so she had to take two years off to tend to her mental health - started to compete again about a year ago. And she just really looks amazing. Last night, at the women's - first end of the women's competition, she had kind of an uncharacteristically shaky start, especially on the balance beam. But she righted herself with an excellent floor routine and then ended the night with just, like, an unbelievably stellar vault. The crowd here at the Target Center gave her a standing ovation. Barring injury, I think Biles is a lock for this Olympic team.

DETROW: Barring injury, though, is an important phrase this week.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, absolutely. It's really been a story at the trials, especially for the women. It's cast a pall on their competition last night. Skye Blakely, who had a great showing last month at the U.S. Gymnastics Championship, she ruptured her Achilles during practice here earlier this week. And then last night at the competition, two more competitors went down. One of them, Shilese Jones, tweaked her knee while she was warming up for the vault. And then on the very first vault of the actual competition, another gymnast, Kayla DiCello, hurt her Achilles, had to be rolled out in a wheelchair. And it just really rattled the other gymnasts around the floor. You could see a couple of them afterwards wiping tears. One of the gymnasts, Jordan Chiles, came down and spoke afterward about just how it affected them.

JORDAN CHILES: There's fear in a lot of athletes when you see somebody get injured, and you don't want that to be you, right? So I think knowing that that's in you, but at the same time, you can control yourself. So you can control how you land. You can control how you punch. You can control how you, like, put yourself in certain positions. So yes, of course, it was in my mind, but I try to put that in the back of my brain 'cause we don't - I don't want to think about that all the time.

DETROW: So the women's team that will head to the Olympics will be announced after the second day of competition tomorrow. Who else could make it?

SULLIVAN: One of them is Sunisa Lee. She's the hometown girl from just St. Paul nearby. She was the Olympic all-around champion in 2021. She looked excellent on the beam last night, strong everywhere else. The other one I'll mention is Jordan Chiles, who you just heard from just now. She is actually in second place in the standings right now after Simone Biles. If she makes the team, I'll just tell you, Scott, you'll be smiling every time you see her on screen. She's very charismatic, very buoyant. She's going to win a lot of hearts if she ends up in Paris.

DETROW: That is NPR sports correspondent Becky Sullivan, who does not have to try out to go to the Olympics for NPR (laughter). Thank you.

SULLIVAN: (Laughter) You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Becky Sullivan
Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
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