US Women’s Gymnastics Trials Bring Star Power to SAP Center


Lately, the giants have dominated the Bay Area sports landscape: oversized athletes like Kevin Durant, 6-foot-9 Warriors, Jumbo Joe Thornton, the real Giants.

But this weekend, some of the Bay Area’s biggest stars will be 5 feet or less. They have 5% body fat and train so hard that sometimes they are too tired to drive their car to the store.

Fourteen gymnasts will compete at the sold-out SAP Center in San Jose for the right to go to the Rio Olympics. At the end of the competition on Sunday evening, the five spots on the American women’s team will be filled; five upstarts ready to defend a team gold medal.

“We’re just trying to carry on the legacy,” said Simone Biles, who is 4-9.

And the SAP Center crowd will arguably have one of the most talented groups of gymnasts ever assembled.

“Each generation gets better and better,” said national team coach and coordinator Martha Karolyi, who will be retiring after Rio. “This group is extremely ambitious. And we have a good mix of established people and newcomers.

Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman return from the 2012 Olympic “Fierce Five” team that won gold in London. Both have also won individual gold medals, including Douglas in the individual all-around. Both are seen as locks for this team.

The star is expected to be Biles, who was too young to compete in London. Now 19, she won three world championships in the last Olympic cycle and is pushing the sport’s physical limits.

Although Biles is a big favorite to win all-around gold, she won’t assume she was on the squad.

“For me, being a favorite is just a label,” she said. “Nothing is set in stone. It would be arrogant if I had to think that I am already part of the team.

Biles’ story reads like a Disney movie – which it will likely become if she realizes her potential. She was born to an addicted mother, was adopted by her paternal grandparents near Houston, and fell in love with gymnastics at the age of 6.

Four years ago, she was an interested spectator at the Olympics. Three years ago, she won her first world championship as a stranger.

Now she is a big favorite to win individual all-around gold.

When told his story looked like it was made for Hollywood, Biles shrugged.

“I just think it’s normal,” she said. “As a child, I thought everyone was adopted. “

Biles, Douglas and Raisman should be selected, but the last two places are apparently up for grabs. Among the contestants is 16-year-old Laurie Hernandez from New Jersey.

“As a gymnast, when you go from junior to senior it’s a big deal,” Hernandez said. “Most people have at least a year to gain this experience. I just turned senior this year so everything is a bit bigger for me. I’m excited. I’ll do my best to stay calm.

Hernandez turns to older athletes whom she considers “calm and collected.” Raisman, at 22, is called “Mama Aly”.

“She keeps us all informed,” Biles said. “She’s telling us how it’s gonna be.”

After London, Raisman retired but returned to competition. She explained how exhausting her workout was, making her too tired to even get behind the wheel for fear of falling asleep.

“I think it’s harder mentally than physically,” Raisman said. “But I didn’t want to sit on my couch watching the Olympics and thinking, ‘What if? “”

All the and ifs will be resolved by the end of this weekend, when the smallest athletes are the biggest stars.

“The arena is full and it’s going to be amazing,” said Raisman. “Everyone will sing ‘USA’. The crowd will be better than it gets at the Olympics for the people who go, because every fan – every child, every parent – is cheering us on. “

Ann Killion is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @annkillion

Women’s Olympic Trials

When: friday and sunday

Or: SAP Center

TV: 9 p.m. Friday (delayed) and 8:30 p.m. Sunday (delayed) Channel: 11
Channel: 3
Channel: 8

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