Ella Donald is a journalist, writer and academic from Brisbane, Australia. The opinions she expressed are her own. See more opinion on CNN. When it comes to sports that attract attention at the Games Olympics, gymnastics is still a major competitor. Both thrilling and disturbing, the gravity-defying skills displayed by athletes are unlike anything else at the Games. However, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic erasing a year of pre-Olympic competitionOf anticipation building, there is also an air of mystery to those outside of the gymnastics universe about Most of the Six Women - alongside faithful Simone Biles, out there. Jordan Chiles, Sunisa Lee, Grace McCallum, Jade Carey and MyKayla Skinner. Some - like Chiles, whose outlook was boosted after a move to Biles' gymnasium - are underdogs, and some - like Skinner, who quit a starring spot on the University of the University squad. Utah to Train for a Place at the Olympics - Stepping out of the conventional way of sport. Ella Donald For any aspiring elite gymnast, the Olympics are always everything. But until these Games, the definition of everything also included the pressure to turn professional, to capitalize as much as possible on the potential to make money or other deals. For athletes whose careers are so far advanced in their youth, these financial concerns - as well as draconian rules prohibiting earning money while participating in college sports (thus removing college as an option for many) - the Olympics were the main, and often the last, stage where fans could watch their favorite American gymnasts are going down in history. However, thanks to a series of recent developments, this is far from be the last time most gymnasts on this year's team will compete.Recent NCAA changes allow student-athletes to enjoy their name, image and likeness - think of public appearances and merchandise, not competitions with cash prizes - ushers in an exciting new era in sport. Before, top athletes had to choose between competition and money. Now when the gymnastics competition starts in Tokyo, it will be like never before. Not only will it feature a team of 18+ women in a sport traditionally known for pixie teens, but it will also feature star gymnasts whose talents would later grace the stage (or mat) of American colleges, even if they still aspire and plan to shoot for future Olympic greatness in - or profit from - their sport. Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas from USA celebrate their medaille d 'team gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games Rio 2016. Biles' decision seemed certain at the time because women's gymnastics had long held a unique position among other popular Olympic sports in the United States and in the world. In other Olympic sports in the United States - including racketeering and swimming - many Olympians honed their skills throughout their college careers before continuing their success through professional careers in their twenties (or even her 30s, such as Olympic Trials silver medalist marathon runner Sally Kipyego), with opportunities to be recognized for their talents. But now the Tokyo team will no longer have to make such a choice. The NCAA NIL (name, image , resemblance) rules mean that student-athletes can nowenter into sponsorship deals and paid appearances (including post-Olympic tours) without endangering their eligibility to compete at the college level. The move follows years of backlash against the NCAA and universities, in which organizations and schools made billions of dollars in profit, but players were not allowed to monetize their talents. As a result, Chiles is able to capitalize on his place in the team with merchandise featuring his surname, Chick, and her own line of clothing ; and Carey signed with the agency Smith and Saint. Lee retweeted the news with !! !! Jordan Chiles competes on the floor on day two of practice Women's Olympics in the United States in 2021. Now elite athletes and others in their orbit can change their mindset about varsity competition, no longer an opportunity devoid of the professional opportunity that brings an Olympic place. Previously, a college scholarship was seen as an alternative, less favo red path for Olympic gymnasts - this is only in the absence oflucrative sponsorship that a full round in exchange for undergraduate training was more attractive. But even before the new NIL rules were introduced, that had started to change with the Class of 2020, which included the 2012 Olympic Team Champion Kyla Ross , 2016 Olympic team champion and silver medalist on uneven bars Madison Kocian , individual competitor from Tokyo Skinner , and Rio's best competitor Maggie Nichols . When they arrived at their respective campuses in 2016, they started a wave of high performance athletes progressing toacademic careers. after elite careers, which had softened following increased participation in the early 2000s. At the time four out of six members from Sydney 2000 competed in college, followed by three out of six each for Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008; compared to the Magnificent Seven of 1996, where none of the gymnasts, who competed in those Atlanta Games as teenagers, passed in NCAA competition , thanks to a paid tour and in the Atlanta Journal Constitution said in 2004. A lower ranking team meant less assured opportunities in a professional career, a college scholarship the most enticing proposition. In 2012, the American team - bolstered by the impressive performances of McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman - were on top again, capturing the imaginations of pop culture and the public alike. But despite his numerous media appearances and his participation in the after the Olympic tour, their teammate Ross chose to forgo professional status and its associated pay in favor of going to UCLA in the fall of 2016, a departure from many previous champions. Competing in college sports has been such a rewarding life experience for me, Ross written last year . I sincerely thank @ucla for providing me with not only the athletic, but also the academic opportunities that I will take with me in whatever I choose to.continue. Having more Olympians and potential Olympians in the college gymnastics ranks will be good for college programs - and for sport in general. Historically, Olympic hopefuls could be specialists in one or two events (like Kocian, added to the 2016 Olympic team for her uneven bars prowess, who was the only apparatus of the four - floor exercise, vault, uneven bars and balance beam - she competed in team competition in Rio). But with fewer places available in Olympic teams (seven in 1996 became six in 2000-2008 before dropping to five and ultimately four for 2020 - although 2024 will bring it down to five), being a competitor now requires strength on all four events. Add to this the fact that athletes competing for the Olympics are trained on the open scoring system, which rewards the constant difficulty of fending offlimits compared to perfection, and it's clear that more gymnasts than ever before will compete in the NCAA. with an unprecedented level of difficulty and experience in sport. Now more top elite gymnasts can bring their skills to college - before Skinner left the University of Utah , she was considered part of the toughest floor routine in NCAA competition. Receive our free weekly newsletter Subscribe to the new newsletter. Join us on Twitter and Facebook While Lee, Chiles, their teammates and their Hopes would probably have already had a professional career, giving up their academic commitments, they will likely bring their expertise to their universities and a galvanized zeal for college gymnastics. I really want to go to college and do varsity gymnastics. I chose Auburn because I really like the campus and all the coaches, said Lee during the Olympic trials. I'm really excited to make it happen. His future trainer Jeff Graba says that she is probably the most decorated gymnast to ever sign with Auburn ... (She) throws some the most dynamic skillsical to the world. The landscape has changed dramatically from before Rio, when Biles 's announcement seemed inevitable. Top athletes no longer have to choose between cash and competition; they will be able to find the glory in the Olympics and beyond. Shall we witness a new era in gymnastics, with high-level struggles and a resurgence of public interest? In Tokyo, this is just the beginning.