USA Gymnastics Championships To Decide Olympic Fates in Rhythmic And Trampoline
by Blythe Lawrence
Laura Zeng competes at The World Games on July 22, 2017 in Wroclaw, Poland.
More than trampoline gymnasts and rhythmic handheld apparatus are up in the air at this weekend’s USA Gymnastics Championships in St. Louis.
Apart from determining new national champions in rhythmic and trampoline, as well as other non-Olympic gymnastics disciplines, the event doubles as an important part of the Olympic team selection process, with solid chances for rhythmic gymnasts Laura Zeng and Evita Griskenas to write their tickets to the Tokyo Games.
An Olympian will also emerge from the women’s trampoline competition, where multiple contenders are eyeing the U.S.’s sole Olympic berth.
In addition, competition includes national championship events in acrobatics and tumbling.
The competition is taking place Friday through Sunday at the Dome at America’s Center, on the other side of a giant curtain from the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Gymnastics.
Here’s a look at the key competitions.
Evita Griskenas competes at the Pan American Games Lima 2019 on Aug. 2, 2019 in Lima, Peru.
Rhythmic Gymnastics: Two For Tokyo
For the first time ever, Team USA has qualified a full contingent of rhythmic gymnasts — two individuals and a group — to the Olympic Games. The individual places were secured by Evita Griskenas and Laura Zeng through their performances at the 2019 world championships, and the Olympic selection criteria stipulates that if either finishes in the top three in the all-around this weekend, she automatically earns an Olympic berth. If not, a selection committee will name the two gymnasts who will compete in Tokyo.
Top three seems feasible for both Zeng and Griskenas, who have gone 1-2 in the all-around at every U.S. Championships since 2017. Zeng, a 2016 Olympian and 2014 Youth Olympic bronze medalist, and Griskenas, who finished eighth all-around at the last world championships, have spent the spring competing on the world cup circuit in eastern Europe, ostensibly in preparation for the big show in Tokyo.
Others to watch include Lennox Hopkins-Wilkins, the top overall finisher at Pan American Championships in Rio de Janeiro this month, Victoria Kobelev, who finished second with the ribbon in Brazil, and 15-year-old Alexandria Kautzman, the bronze medalist in the junior division at the last U.S. championships.
Rhythmic gymnastics was added to the Olympics in 1984. Zeng’s 11th-place performance at the Rio Games tied the best result in Team USA history in the sport.
Rhythmic Groups: National Champions Will Be Olympics-Bound
Olympic selection in rhythmic group gymnastics is simple: win the national title and advance to the Games. The top-ranked U.S. group, who train alongside Zeng and Griskenas at North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics Center outside Chicago, includes Lili Mizuno, Camilla Feeley, Nicole Sladkov, Isabella Connor, Yelyzaveta Merenzon and Elizaveta Pletneva, several of whom helped the U.S. secure its place in Tokyo at the 2019 world championships.
What complicates things for the group is that although groups contain six athletes, only five can be selected for the Games. The final five will be named by the selection committee in consultation with the winning group’s head coach, with the remaining gymnast serving as first alternate.
Jeffrey Gluckstein competes at the 2016 USA Gymnastics Championships on June 11, 2016 in Providence, R.I.
Bounding Toward Tokyo
While Nicole Ahsinger’s bronze-medal performance at the world cup in Brescia, Italy, gave the U.S. women the right to send a gymnast to Tokyo, the gymnast who gets the ticket remains TBD. A lot will depend on what happens in St. Louis, the last of three selection events. Ahsinger, a 2016 Olympian and 2014 Youth Olympian, as well as Charlotte Drury and Jessica Stevens are all expected to contend for a spot.
The U.S. men have a confirmed place at the Games for Aliaksei Shostak, the top American finisher from the 2019 world championships. Shostak, from Lafayette, Louisiana, will be competing in his first Olympics but has previously been selected for six world championships teams.
The race for the U.S. men’s trampoline title is still bound to be competitive, with 2019 U.S. champion Jeffrey Gluckstein and Cody Gusuelli bouncing for the win.
Trampoline gymnastics has been an Olympic event since 2000. Savannah Vinsant’s sixth-place performance at the London Games in 2012 stands as the best U.S. placement at the Olympics.