MyKayla Skinner, Kayla DiCello have distinctly different experiences with COVID year

By Mackenzie Brooks | June 25, 2021
MyKayla Skinner, Kayla DiCello have distinctly different experiences with COVID year
Kayla DiCello (left) and MyKayla Skinner (right) compete at the 2021 U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Fort Worth, Texas. (© Jessica Frankl)

From the ashes of the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games spun the infamous ‘extra year’ for elite gymnasts on the road to achieving their Olympic dreams, but the additional 365 days hasn’t proven kind to everyone.

For some athletes reaching the end of their elite career, the extra year was less than ideal, but for others, an additional 12 months of fine-tuning was all they needed to become a contender for the U.S. Olympic Team.

Two gymnasts experiencing opposite ends of this spectrum are MyKayla Skinner of Desert Lights Gymnastics and Kayla DiCello of Hills Gymnastics.

Skinner, a vault and floor powerhouse, now faces new competition for one of the four Olympic Team spots from younger gymnasts like DiCello. 

Courtesy USA Gymnastics

A 2016 U.S. Olympic Team alternate, Skinner had her sights set on making the team for the 2020 games before the pandemic struck. Now 24 years old, the gymnast has had to rewrite her plans to stay on track for the games, including deferring her senior year at Utah for a second year.

The extra year brought injury and sickness for Skinner, making her journey to Tokyo that much tougher.

Skinner first suffered a bone spur in her foot during the quarantine period, and just as things started to feel better, she contracted the coronavirus and was out of the gym for three weeks. Upon returning at the start of 2021, she was then diagnosed with pneumonia, putting her out of training for an additional month.

“In my whole gymnastics career, I’ve never had this much time off of the gym,” Skinner said. “It was really hard at times, but I was able to push myself, and I am pretty much back to normal now.”

In her first meet back since the start of the pandemic, Skinner won the vault title at the 2021 GK U.S. Classic with a two-score average of 14.675.

Less than a month later, at the 2021 U.S. Championships in Fort Worth, Texas, Skinner took second on the event – one-point behind reigning Olympic vault champion Simone Biles.

Skinner placed ninth in the all-around at that meet, two spots and 0.45 points ahead of second-year senior DiCello.

While DiCello did fall a bit behind in Texas, she proved herself as a dark-horse contender at the U.S. Classic, placing third in the all-around and winning the bars title after fellow Olympic hopeful Sunisa Lee suffered an uncharacteristic fall.

Courtesy USA Gymnastics

DiCello has used the extra year of training to her advantage, bolstering her Olympic stock alongside the likes of Skinner and other more experienced elites.

“I think the additional year helped me,” DiCello said earlier this year. “It helped me become more confident in myself and get the skills I needed that I didn’t have before.” 

At the 2020 American Cup, just before lock down, DiCello posted a 13.730 on bars with a difficulty score of 5.6. Over a year later, she increased that score to a 14.600 when she won the bars title at the U.S. Classic, including an increased difficulty score of 6.0. 

DiCello has also increased her floor and beam difficulty scores by two tenths each.

The young gymnast is just one of multiple U.S. women that have found themselves in Olympic contention largely thanks to the extra year. Fellow 17-year-old Leanne Wong is another favorite to be chosen for a team spot after her strong performance at nationals.

These young stars have a chance to prove themselves again at Olympic Trials, competing alongside the likes of Skinner and Biles in St. Louis.

Skinner, the veteran, will be looking to show there’s no leftover rust from the extra year, while gymnasts like DiCello look to capitalize on the additional time they took to improve, upgrade, and prepare.

DiCello, Skinner, and the rest of the U.S. women’s national team take the stage for day one of the 2021 US Gymnastics Olympic Trials on Friday, June 25 at 6:30 p.m CT./7:30 p.m. ET. Find out how to watch here.