Zeng And Griskenas Earn Rhythmic Spots For Tokyo, While Ahsinger Qualifies In Trampoline
by Steve Drumwright
Laura Zeng competes at U.S. Gymnastics Championships on June 27, 2021 in St. Louis.
It is always fitting when the athletes who won Olympic quota spots for their country earn their way onto the team.
That was the case Sunday for Laura Zeng and Evita Griskenas, who finished first and second in rhythmic gymnastics at the 2021 USA Gymnastics Championships in St. Louis in the final qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics. The duo has finished 1-2 in each U.S. championships every year since 2017.
Zeng will make her second trip to the Olympics after winning the all-around with a score of 95.900. She posted the best scores in the hoop (26.500), ball (26.100) and ribbon (21.550) disciplines and was third on clubs (21.750). Griskenas will be making her Olympic debut after finishing second with a 95.650, including a high of 25.50 on the ball, which was the second-best score in that discipline, and the top score on the clubs of 24.850.
The U.S. also had previously qualified as a group in rhythmic gymnastics. Lili Mizuno, Camilla Feeley, Nicole Sladkov, Isabella Connor, Yelyzaveta Merenzon and Elizaveta Pletneva — who train with Zeng and Griskenas at the North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics Center — won the title Saturday to earn the trip to Tokyo. That same group had earned the quota spot as well.
This marks the first time since rhythmic gymnastics was added to the Olympics in 1984 that Team USA is sending a full continent.
Also qualifying on for Tokyo this weekend was Nicole Ahsinger, who secured her second trip to the Olympics in women’s trampoline. She won the prelims with a 102.18 total to ensure her spot in Tokyo. Ahsinger continued her standout performance by winning the women’s trampoline title Sunday with a score of 155.830, beating Charlotte Drury’s 155.245. Jeffrey Gluckstein won the men’s trampoline with a 170.365, topping Cody Gesuelli’s 162.895.
Like Zeng and Griskenas, Ahsinger also earned the quota spot for Team USA.
The 21-year-old Zeng, who lives in Libertyville, Illinois, barely missed a top-10 finish at the 2016 Rio Olympics when she placed 11th, matching the best U.S. performance (Valerie Zimring in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics).
Zeng is a five-time U.S. all-around champion (2015-19) who has made four appearances at the world championships, including a 10th-place finish in 2019 in the all-around and fifth in ribbon. She also competed at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, where she won the all-around bronze medal.
The 20-year-old Griskenas, from Orland Park, Illinois, won the all-around gold medal at the 2019 Pan American Games, while also taking the gold in the hoop, ball and ribbon. At the 2019 world championships, she took eighth in all-around and ball and was seventh in the team competition.
Ahsinger, a 23-year-old San Diego native who lives in Lafayette, Louisiana, finished 15th in Rio, then was part of the fourth-place trampoline team at the 2018 worlds, while taking fifth in synchronized. She is also a 2014 Youth Olympian.
On the men’s side of the trampoline competition, Aliaksei Shostak already had his first Olympic spot locked up. Shostak, a 26-year-old born in Belarus who lives in Lafayette, Louisiana, was the top American at the 2019 world championships, the sixth time he has been picked for that team.