One GAGE gymnast has a chance at a medal at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships.
Leanne Wong, who trains at Great American Gymnastics Express in Blue Springs, finished the first day of the elite-level national championships in a tie for fifth place Friday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
Her GAGE teammates, Kara Eaker and Aleah Finnegan, finished the opening round in 11th and 14th place, respectively, which they say will simply serve as motivation heading into the 6:30 p.m. Sunday final round, which will be televised by NBC (KSHB, channel 41).
"We just got back from the Pan American Games," GAGE coach Al Fong said, as his three gymnasts were part of the United States’ fifth consecutive gold medal winning team in Lima, Peru. "And that took a lot out of our girls. But I thought it was important to go to the Pan Am Games because they are run exactly like the Olympics – and that is the goal of every elite gymnast in the country.
"Could we have skipped the Pan Am Games and concentrated on the U.S. Championships right here in our own backyard? "Yes, but that is not the way we work.”
Fong said his gymnasts got right back to work.
“We got back from the Pan Am Games last Thursday, had a mini practice, came down here (to the Sprint Center) and got accustomed to everything down here, and competed tonight,” he said. “We did not do as well as we had hoped, but we are going to work at cleaning some things up Saturday and we will be ready to go Sunday."
Fong paused for a moment, looked around the Sprint Center as much of the gear used by the gymnasts was worked on to make sure it was in perfect shape for Saturday's men's competition, and added, "The upside to Sunday is that I have seen everything you can see in this type of competition. It can go both ways and I look for our gymnasts to come out strong and give a great performance.
"The main thing is, I want them to come out of this healthy. With the worlds training coming up in three weeks (in Florida), we have to come out of this healthy and be ready for the next big step."
With the lower bowl of the Sprint Center filled with many enthusiastic young gymnasts, many of whom were wearing GAGE gear, Wong, Eaker and Finnegan faced a new type of pressure.
"When you see all those starstruck little faces, you want to do well, to give them a great performance," said Eaker, a Grain Valley High School student. "Today did not go as well as any of us had hoped, but we can clean up a few things on Saturday and be ready for Sunday."
Finnegan, who attends Summit Christian Academy in Lee’s Summit, agreed with her teammate.
"We're fine," Finnegan said. "We need to clean up some issues on Saturday and we will be ready Sunday. I really believe Day 2 will be better than Day 1. It's time to turn the page, learn from what happened today and go out and compete Sunday."
Wong, who faced the biggest post-meet media session, was calm, cool and collected.
"Today was OK – not the best, but OK,” Wong said. “It was a little different getting ready to compete when you hear someone – or many people – calling your name. It's great, but you have to block that out and concentrate. There was a lot of energy in this building, and I am so proud that we had the support we had tonight. Now, we have to clean some things up at practice Saturday and give our fans something to really cheer about Sunday."
World champion Simone Biles drew some of the biggest cheers Friday night as she finished with a combined score of 58.650 to finish first in the combined overall total. Sunsia Lee was second, 56.900; Jade Carey third, 56.100; Riley McCusker fourth, 55.700; and Wong tied Trinity Thomas for fifth, 55.400.
Eaker finished at 54.650 and Finnegan at 53.250.