Kara Eaker, Aleah Finnegan and Leanne Wong arrived back in Kansas City last Thursday after helping the U.S. women’s gymnastics team win its fifth consecutive gold medal at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
“They should be used to packing and unpacking a suitcase by now,” quipped their Great American Gymnastics Express (GAGE) coach, Al Fong, early Tuesday morning as the trio of Olympic hopefuls had their bags packed for a much shorter trip as they left for downtown Kansas City, the site of the U.S. Gymnastics Championships this weekend at The Sprint Center.
“There’s a little difference between a 20-minute drive and a 12-hour flight,” Fong added. “We’re not going to be sleeping in our own beds, because we’re all staying at a hotel in downtown Kansas City, but at least we’re close to home and close to our families – who will get to come out and support the girls in what I like to call the first cousin of the Olympics.”
While each of the three GAGE gymnasts earned a team gold medal at the Pan American Games, Eaker, who lives in Grain Valley, won a gold on the balance beam and a silver on the floor and Wong, who lives in Overland Park, brought home a silver medal for the bars.
In the team competition, the U.S. team posted a score of 171.000 to capture the title. Canada tallied a 160.600 for the silver, and Brazil brought home the bronze at 158.550.
“We had three of the five participants on the Pan Am team,” Fong said, “which brings back memories of our 2004 women’s Olympic team with Terin (Humphrey) and Courtney (McCool). These three young ladies are so talented and such great competitors. We’re excited to see what they do right here in our own backyard.”
Eaker, Fong and Finnegan, who attends Summit Christian Academy in Lee’s Summit, left the Blue Springs GAGE facility early Tuesday to get in some practice time on the various apparatus they will compete on in the Olympic precursor.
“I’m really excited for the U.S Championships,” said Eaker, who attends Grain Valley High School. “You can just feel the energy as we pack and get in one final practice (at GAGE) before going down to the Sprint Center.”
Wong, who attends Blue Valley High School, could feel the energy as she and her teammates were given a special sendoff by the younger GAGE gymnasts.
“I just feel like we have the opportunity to be part of something special,” said Wong, who claimed the women’s all-around title in the American Cup in March at Greensboro, N.C. “And we get to do it at home, where our friends and families can come watch us compete. We hope it’s going to be a very exciting weekend.”
Finnegan said the short turnaround between the Pan Am Games and the U.S. Championships should pose no problems.
“We can’t wait,” Finnegan said. “We’re home and we don’t have many opportunities to perform for our hometown fans and families. We all hope this will be a special weekend for all of us.”
Here are some more facts about this weekend’s event, according to USA Gymnastics:
• 2016 Olympic and 2018 world all-around champion Simone Biles of Spring, Texas (World Champions Centre), and two-time world medalist Sam Mikulak of Newport Coast, Calif./U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, are both seeking their sixth U.S. all-around titles this weekend.
• The four-day competition provides the first opportunity for fans to see the men and women who will be in the mix heading into the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Featuring competition on both the junior and senior levels, the U.S. Championships also have activities for fans both inside and outside Sprint Center.
• During the course of the four days, 46 women and 77 men will vie for junior and senior national team berths and national titles. Performances at the U.S. Championships are also part of the selection process for the 2019 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. The U.S. Championships is part of the Team USA champions series.
• A free fan fest is available for attendees and gymnastics fans, whether they have event tickets or not, Saturday and Sunday from 3:30-5:30 p.m. The fan fest will be held on Grand Boulevard just outside of Sprint Center, as well as at KC Live! in the Power & Light District. The fan fest features interactive inflatables, face painting, photo opportunities, a DJ and more. For more, visit usgymchampionships.com