Skinner, James among athletes with Arizona ties taking aim at Rio

MyKayla Skinner’s siblings got her started in gymnastics.

“They would do skills with me in the house and put me up on a bar,” Skinner said. “I would do chin-ups on it and do crazy stuff like that so my mom finally put me in it.”

As a kid, sprinter Jamol James aspired “to be somebody great.”

Both hope their humble beginnings lead to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Skinner is looking to take the final step to a berth on the U.S. women’s gymnastics team at the Olympic Trials in June in San Jose, California.

After years of competing as a young girl, Skinner quit the sport. But her mom convinced her to resumed training when Carly Patterson won the gold medal in the 2004 Olympics.

“I’m glad she did because otherwise I never would have had this opportunity,” Skinner said.

Skinner was so talented, her coaches told her she needed advanced training.

She joined Desert Lights when she was 11. “Then it just happened from there,” said her mom, Kym.

Desert Lights Gymnasium is where Lisa Spini became Skinner’s main coach and has since molded her into one of the top gymnasts in the world.

“She can twist and flip multiple times and she knows exactly where she is, and that’s an incredible asset in gymnastics,” Spini said.

Skinner went to the 2014 World Championships and contributed to the U.S. team’s gold medal, and won a bronze medal on vault. Now all her focus is on winning an Olympic gold medal.

“To be able to win one at the Olympics would be amazing and definitely a dream come true,” Skinner said.

Impressing Marta Karolyi, the coordinator for USA gymnastics, has been Skinner’s biggest motivation.

“To be able to go out there and hit all your events and just show her what you can do definitely helps get your name out there,” Skinner said. “It makes you look better to hopefully make the Olympic team.”

Skinner admits her dream has taken a toll the last six years, but she has remained focused and determined.

“I just have to come in to the gym every day and have a positive attitude and just think this is it, this is my last year trying to do this,” Skinner said. “I just want to make that team.”

James, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, is looking for his second trip to the games as a member of that country’s track and field team. He runs the 100- and 200-meter dashes at Arizona State University after transferring to from the University of Tennessee.

In the Rio Olympics he hopes to compete in the 200-meter dash. It is still undecided if he will compete in the 100-meter dash.

He has placed first in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes at multiple invitationals at ASU, and has also recorded numerous personal best times. He also made the Trinidadian team at the 2012 Olympic trials in London, but did not compete in any events.

“Every day is just getting ready,” James said. “When something happens you realize well, OK, I need to fix this, I need to fix that, so that’s what my team has been working on in terms of trying to keep me healthy.”

ASU track and field assistant coach Ronnie Williams called James “an incredibly focused, extremely talented and extremely intelligent young man. All the things you want in an elite-caliber sprinter. I anticipate that he will be focused and primed and ready to excel.”