Note: Readers are encouraged to read Part I of this article first.
Below is a recap of the gymnasts who were the seven most successful gymnasts of the 2017-2021 Olympic cycle. An explanation as to how the rankings were created can be found at the bottom of this article.
#7 Rebeca Andrade (Brazil)
The gymnast many of you have been waiting for, and one the few Olympians who can truly be described as having “stolen the show” in Tokyo. Prior to Tokyo-2021 there would have been mixed reactions to the assertion that Rebeca Andrade was a favorite to win an Olympic medal. And even fewer would have chosen her as the WAG who would be the most successful at the Tokyo games in my points data. But here we are.
Yes, you read that right. Rebeca Andrade was statistically the highest scoring gymnast at the 2021 Olympics in my points data. Winning a gold medal on vault and a silver medal in the All-Around netted Rebeca 5-points in a single competition. To put into perspective as to just how impressive that is, Simone Biles was the only gymnast in the 2017-2021 quad who achieved six points or more in a single competition.
Rebeca did it all while being an absolute trailblazer in the process. She accomplished so many “firsts” in Brazilian as well as FIG history that I had to include them in a separate article. If not for an obnoxiously long injury history, Rebeca would have been far higher on this list. But persistent injuries prevented Rebeca from attending half of the major competitions in the 2017-2021 Olympic quad. But as recent events demonstrate, Rebeca Andrade is a force to be reckoned with when she is injury-free and at full health.
#6 Mai Murakami (Japan)
It had been half a century since Japan last had a gymnast of Mai Murakami’s caliber. In a single quad Mai Murakami became the first Japanese gymnast since the 1960s to win a medal in two different competitions, as well as the first since then to win a minimum of three medals over the course of her career. Equally as impressive, Mai has walked away with at least one medal at every competition she has attended since the 2016 Olympics.
Like other gymnasts on this list, Mai Murakami fully embodies the concept of a gymnast who was the leader of her program for an extended period of time. She has had a continual presence in Japan’s lineup going back to 2013 and it is hard to imagine a time when Mai Murakami wasn’t the face of Japan’s women’s program.
Besides the six medals Murakami won over the course of her career, what places her so high on this list is the strongest part of Mai’s career perfectly aligns with the Tokyo quad. Mai won her first medal at the 2017 World Championships in the very first year of the Olympic quad and never lost her strength from that point forward.
#5 Sunisa Lee (United States)
One of the gymnasts most readers were waiting for and a name everyone expected, Sunisa Lee was the darling of the 2021 Olympics. In Tokyo Sunisa Lee became the unexpected victor and became a breakout star on the Olympic stage. But it isn’t just her strong Olympic performance that places Sunsia so high on this list. It was the 2019 World Championships where Sunisa Lee won half of her career medals.
Sunisa’s performance at the 2019 World Championships was as memorable as her Olympic performance. It was in 2019 when a young rookie made her senior debut. After a disappointing finish in the All-Around the young gymnast bounced back strong by winning a pair of medals in Event Finals. The young gymnast proved that she doesn’t get fazed or frazzled and can overcome adverse circumstances.
It was in 2019 that Sunsia probably gained the ability and experience to excel on the big stage when her Olympic moment came. Sunsia Lee currently has six career medals. Ironically, Sunisa went “6 for 6” when it came to winning medals of different types, no two of which are alike. She has a gold, silver, and bronze at the World Championships, as well as a gold, silver, and bronze at the Olympics.
#4 Morgan Hurd (United States)
If readers are shocked to see that Morgan Hurd is so high on this list, there would be multiple reasons for this. The highlight of Morgan Hurd’s career occurred over three years ago that it almost feels like a different era. But also, Morgan Hurd is remembered almost entirely for her performance at the 2017 World Championships where she won the All-Around title and a silver on beam.
But what is frequently overlooked regarding Morgan’s career is her performance at the 2018 World Championships where she won three more medals, and each medal had come in a different stage of competition (Team, All-Around, and Event Finals). It was the dominant run in not one, but two different competitions that vaulted Morgan Hurd so high up the list. But unfortunately for Morgan, she had mixed fortune for the reminder of the quad following the 2018 World Championships.
Morgan Hurd led Team USA to a 1st place finish at the 2019 Pan-American Games, only to miss being named to the team six weeks later at the 2019 World Championships. Gymnastics fans speculated whether the Americans who opted to attend the 2019 Pan-American Games had been placed at an unfair disadvantage and were too worn out/fatigued to compete for a spot on the World Championships team with only a six week timeline separating the two competitions.
But Hurd did what a gymnast does best and rebounded strongly by winning the 2020 American Cup, staking her claim as one of the top gymnasts in America and a favorite to be named to the Olympic lineup. But unfortunately for Morgan Hurd, the 2020 American Cup occurred right as Covid-19 was triggering a world-wide crisis. Just three days after Morgan Hurd’s American Cup title, the NBA postponed play, kickstarting the wave of mass cancellations of sporting events which included the 2020 Olympics.
Before Covid-19, Morgan Hurd had peak at the right time with the Olympics only a few months away. But once Covid-19 became a reality, Morgan Hurd appeared to have peaked at the wrong time. The one-year postponement of the Olympics proved to be too long for Morgan Hurd to maintain top form and her high-level of conditioning. Sadly, the one-year delay also proved to be too short for Morgan to recover from her numerous elbow surgeries that had been performed during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
In the end, Morgan Hurd was able to attend only half of the major competitions of the 2017-2021 Olympic quad. And yet she still rose as high as #4 on this list. Proving that Morgan Hurd truly was one of Team USA’s greatest ever.
#3 Jade Carey (United States)
With Morgan Hurd at #4, and (you know who) is going to take the top spot, Jade Carey makes it so that American gymnasts are responsible for three of the top four spots on this list. This serves as a testament to just how strong the American program was during the 2017-2021 Olympic quad, and just how competitive the process was to earn a spot in its lineup at the Olympics and/or World Championships.
But what makes Jade Carey being as high as #3 on this list so astronomically crazy, is that no other gymnast was put at such a disadvantage in the last quad than her. And despite that, Jade Carey still came in at #3. The “disadvantage” I’m referring to is the 2018 World Championships where an outrageously flawed Olympic qualification format made gymnasts such as Jade Carey unable to compete at both the World Championships and the World Cup. Despite the World Championships supposed status as the Olympics in non-Olympic years, its most prestigious event in any given 365-day time period where the Olympics aren’t held, FIG decided they didn’t want all the best gymnasts in the world to be present.
The reason I bring this up is had Jade Carey simply won one additional medal in an individual event, she probably would have been ranked #2 on this list. But this is Jade Carey we are talking about here, she easily could have walked away with two such medals at the 2018 World Championships, on top of a gold medal in the team competition. To describe the athletic capabilities of Jade Carey, “ruthless” would be an apt description. Prior to 2020, Jade Carey did not know what defeat felt like. At the World Championships Jade Carey participated in five team and/or apparatus finals.
She won a medal on all five occasions.
It would be accurate to say Jade Carey had won a medal on every occasion she quailed to a finals entering Tokyo. It wasn’t until the 2021 Olympics that this streak was finally broken, but the way this streak was broken is a testament to just how difficult it is to make Jade Carey lose. In yet another highly controversial FIG decision, gymnasts were not allowed a “touch-warmup” right before an apparatus finals started.
This rule was widely despised within the gymnastics community and just about everyone hated it. The reason being, not only was it dangerous to the athletes, but it created a situation where a heavy medal favorite could falter on the big stage simply because she hadn’t had the proper warmup time to perform to the best of her capabilities. For years the gymnastics community was dreading the occasion where this very scenario would one-day come true. And at the 2021 Olympics it was Jade Carey who fulfilled this prophecy and lost out on an Olympic medal because of it.
In the aftermath of Jade Carey’s 2021 Olympic vault appearance where she balked her vault, the FIG reinstated touch-warmups before every apparatus final. I encourage gymnastics fans to refer to it as the “Jade Carey rule” in tribute to the gymnast who had to lose an Olympic medal before the FIG finally realized the error of its ways.
And then there was the 2021 Olympic All-Around Final where Jade Carey finished 8th which was the only other occasion in which Carey participated in a finals, but failed to medal. But, that’s okay. Her 8th place finish was quite remarkable considering Jade was a substitute for Simone Biles and the 2021 Olympic All-Around was the first and only time of Carey’s career that Jade had ever participated in an All-Around.
After failing to medal in her first two events, Jade Carey had the ultimate rebound by winning a gold medal on floor. That result propelled her up to #3 on this list. It completed a career where Jade Carey won five medals for herself, all of which were a silver or better. Despite missing out on so many medals due to adverse circumstances, the medals Carey actually did win are still enough to make her one of the best gymnasts of the her respective generation.
#2 Nina Derwael (Belgium)
This will probably be the most surprising ranking on this list to readers, but Nina Derwael has rightfully earned her place in the #2 spot. It all started at the 2017 World Championships where Nina Derwael finished 3rd on the uneven bars and won a bronze medal. And that was the last time Nina ever lost an uneven bars final. Ever since then Derwael has been undefeated on the apparatus having won a gold medal at every European Championships, World Championships, and Olympics she has attended in the time since. Nina’s streak of four consecutive medals at the World Championships/Olympic level, three of which were consecutive gold medals puts Derwael on the same level as the legendary Maxi Gnauck and Svetlana Khorkina.
The crazy part is that Nina is only 21 years old and if she maintains her run of success, Derwael could find herself one day being considered the greatest bars worker of all time. Nina Derwael’s high rank on this list is due exclusively due to one event, but in the next Olympic quad I wouldn’t count her out of the All-Around.
Nina has finished 8th, 4th, 5th, and 6th in the All-Around at the World Championships and Olympics. This makes her one of the most accomplished and consistent All-Arounders to have never won an All-Around medal. I’d go as far as to say it is probably a question of “when” not “if” Nina Derwael wins an All-Around medal.
#1 Simone Biles (United States)
This was the entrant that every reader was expecting, even before they opened the article. Even though her Olympic quad ended in unusual fashion where a bronze medal on beam was Biles’ only medal in any of the five individual events, that did nothing to change this list. Simone still took the top spot by such a wide margin that she scored higher than both the #2 and #3 gymnasts combined. This from a gymnast who didn’t participate at the 2017 World Championships and missed most of the events at the 2021 Olympics.
Simone’s performances at the 2018 and 2019 World Championships went down in gymnastics history as two of the most dominant performances of all time. But besides the medals she won, during the 2017-2021 Olympic quad Simone Biles accomplished so much more.
First, Simone proved that nothing is impossible after coming back from a hiatus and immediately dominating the field. Making a comeback look easy, simple, and routine when most Hall of Fame gymnasts tend to struggle with such a difficult task. Then Biles proved that human ability could be pushed to new heights by coming out with a wave of legendary new eponymous skills that made us rethink what the human body was capable of.
Then there was the integrity she displayed, and encouraged us to aspire to, as Simone confronted those who had failed her. Even challenging powerful sports administrators three times her age that they were wrong, they had let her down, and even forced many of them out of power. All while having the courage to be a public figure and speak on behalf of deeply personal matters that Simone did not feel comfortable revealing, yet she did so anyways.
Because Biles knew her name was bigger and her voice more impactful than any of her sister-survivors, and it was up to her to speak on their behalf because only she had such a large platform. No matter how much Biles didn’t want to be the one in that role, she undertook it anyway. Simone was the leader of this sport and she is not going to let a cycle of abuse that goes all the way back to the 1960s remain in place. Doing everything in her power to ensure that the next great gymnast who comes along will not walk the same path of horrific abuse that Simone herself was once subjected to.
Little did we know all of that would be just a test run for Simone Biles’ most high profile moment yet. Where when the stage was at its brightest, the pressure at its highest, and the public scrutiny at its most intense, Simone did the unthinkable. One of the most high-profile and visible sports figures in the world said winning isn’t everything. The gymnast who was described as “non-human” told us that she very much was.
After an Olympic quad filled with impossibility, tested the limits of human ability, demonstrated courage, and displayed integrity, Simone added one more thing to the list:
What Simone did in 2021 was turn conventional sports wisdom on its head, and get the world to agree with her in that regard. That her personal needs are more important than the needs of the fans, even in the middle of the biggest sporting event of them all. Many pundits tried to empower themselves by tearing down Simone Biles on this particular issue. But all of them lost and were greatly outnumbered by the general public who felt the gymnast had done the right thing.
The rankings are taken from my points system which awards gold medals with 3-points, silver medals with 2-points, and bronze medals with 1-point. Only medals won in individual events at the World Championships and Olympics are considered. Team medals and competitions such as the European Championships are not considered.
The difference between this article and the points system is the introduction of tiebreakers. The tiebreakers were determined by a poll of my Twitter followers where I had them vote yes/no on what tiebreakers they agreed with. Tiebreakers with a higher percentage of “yes” votes were given first priority.
Tiebreaker #1: If two gymnasts are tied, whoever has the most points in All-Around competition should wins the tiebreak.
Tiebreaker #2: If two gymnasts are tied, whoever won the most medals should win the tie.
Tiebreaker #3: If two gymnasts are tied, whoever won the most gold and silver medals wins the tie.
These tiebreakers sorted out the #1 through #11 spots, but still left the 12th through 15th spots in a tie as all four gymnasts had identical stat lines. That had each won a single gold medal in an Event Finals. Because no tiebreaker could separate four gymnasts with identical medal counts, I used an amended form of margin of victory and the following equation instead.
Score of the gymnast who won a gold medal – Median score of all routines in that specific Apparatus Finals
The four remaining gymnasts were ranked based on who had the largest scores after that equation was utilized.