Grace McCallum is getting a showcase at the American Cup.
The youngest member of the U.S. women's gymnastics team that won a gold medal at the 2018 world championships headlines the field for the annual exhibition, which will be held March 2 at the Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina. The 16-year-old McCallum will be joined by 2018 U.S. junior champion Leanne Wong, who trains at GAGE in Blue Springs and will be making her senior debut at the first major elite event of 2019.
"It's a special part of our schedule and it is a big deal as to which athletes go into competition," said Tom Forster, the high-performance coordinator for the women's national team. "Sometimes it's about showing the very best and sometimes it's about giving an opportunity to new seniors."
This time the American Cup will do both.
McCallum, who is from Isanti, Minnesota, finished fourth in the all-around at the 2018 U.S. championships and competed in three events during team qualifying and two events during the team final at worlds. Forster pointed to McCallum's youth and her success under pressure at the world championships as proof she was worthy of a spot.
Forster said he first broached the topic of the American Cup at the world championships in Doha, Qatar, and the other members of the team — including Olympic and world champion Simone Biles, 2017 world champion Morgan Hurd and Riley McCusker — all wanted more down time to upgrade a portion of their routines. All three will make their 2019 debuts later in the year.
"They could see what was happening at worlds and they knew that they would like to change a couple of things in their routines," Forster said. "And when you're at their level, changes don't take weeks, they take months."
The competition – which features 16 gymnasts (eight men, eight women) from around the world – will also be a chance for Wong, a 15-year-old from Overland Park, Kansas, who trains at Great American Gymnastic Express in Blue Springs, to go up against seniors for the first time.
"She's a quick athlete and yet she's beautiful," Forster said of Wong. who is trained by Armine Barutyan and Al Fong at GAGE. "She doesn't have to rely on adrenaline of competition to give her more bounce. She's just technically sound so she can just basically not rely on adrenaline at all. Not all athletes can do that. One of the benefits of Leanne is that she's very consistent."
The rest of the women's field includes three-time world medalist Mai Murakami of Japan, 2017 world silver medalist Ellie Black of Canada, Lu Yufei of China, Celia Serber of France, Kim Bui of Germany, Sanna Veerman of the Netherlands and to-be-determined gymnast from South Korea.
The men's field will be led by five-time U.S. champion and 2014 American Cup gold medalist Sam Mikulak. He will be joined by 2017 U.S. champion Yul Moldauer, two-time Olympic medalist and five-time world gold medalist Kenzo Shirai of Japan, Ma Yue of China, two-time Olympic medalist Marcel Nguyen of German, Bart Deurloo of the Netherlands, Christian Baumann of Switzerland and Petro Pakhniuk of Ukraine.