(NEXSTAR) — As expected — and despite a few missteps — superstar Simone Biles topped all competitors as an individual qualifier on the opening night of women’s gymnastics competition at the Olympics on Sunday. But when Biles returned to her team’s corner, she was greeted by athletes in both blue and red leotards. Many viewers were left asking why team USA didn’t match.
The answer, it turns out, is quite simple. Only four of the gymnasts are competing for a team medal, while the two additional Americans are competing only for individual medals, and not wearing the full team uniform. NBC introduced the “core four” team members ahead of the prime-time broadcast Sunday. Joining Biles in the hunt for team gold are Suni Lee, Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum. Those athletes were seen in blue uniforms.
Jade Carey and MyKayla Skinner, seen in the red uniforms, qualified for the Olympics as individual competitors. Cary’s performance was so strong on Sunday that she nearly beat out Lee to represent the United States in the individual all-around competition. She will compete for medals in the vault and floor exercises later this week, but she and Skinner will not be able to contribute to the Team USA score during the team competition medal round.
Laurie Hernandez, who was Biles’ teammate from the Rio gold medal-winning squad, confirmed the uniform explanation on Twitter.
Even more than in past games, gymnastics team uniforms have been a topic of discussion in Tokyo. For decades, female gymnasts have worn bikini-cut leotards.
In qualifying on Sunday, however, the German team instead wore unitards that stretched to their ankles, intending to push back against the sexualization of women in gymnastics.
The Tokyo Olympics are the first Summer Games since Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics national team doctor, was sent to prison for 176 years for sexually abusing hundreds of gymnasts, including some of the sport’s greatest stars. At his sentencing, athletes — some of them Olympians — described how the sport’s culture allowed for abuse and objectification of young women and girls.
Male gymnasts wear comparatively body-covering clothes: singlets, with loose shorts for their floor exercise and vault, and long pants on bar and pommel horse routines.
Germany’s wardrobe revolution, while widely championed, has not, so far, started a trend. Leotards that leave the legs bare were worn by every other female gymnast during qualifying at the Tokyo Games.
At 4-foot-8 Biles said in June that she prefers leotards because they lengthen the leg and make her appear taller.
“But I stand with their decision to wear whatever they please and whatever makes them feel comfortable,” Biles said. “So if anyone out there wants to wear a unitard or leotard, it’s totally up to you.”
Gymnastics is often viewed as a sport best performed by very young women and girls. Biles, at 24, often jokes about being old; she recently called herself a grandma on social media.
Biles, the most dominant gymnast in recent history, qualified for the medal round in the overall competition and on each individual apparatus.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.