At Home And Abroad, Rising U.S. Gymnast Joscelyn Roberson Is Making Friends And Taking Golds

by Blythe Lawrence

Joscelyn Roberson competes in the floor routine during the U.S. Classic on July 30, 2022 in West Valley City, Utah.


A glowing Joscelyn Roberson stepped off the floor at last month’s gymnastics world cup event in Cairo and let out a happy sigh of relief.


It’s been a good year so far for Roberson, who has plenty to be pleased about after making a name for herself at two recent major international competitions, with a third — the prestigious Pan American Championships — coming up later this month.


Her gymnastics, packed with unusual and difficult skills the 17-year-old deploys with aplomb, has never looked stronger. Her confidence bucket is full, and good things are starting to happen.


In her FIG World Cup debut in Egypt last month, the Texarkana, Texas, native racked up a list of accomplishments that are the stuff of young gymnasts’ dreams: gold medals on vault and floor exercise, a silver on balance beam and even a photo with Olympic legend Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan, a fellow vault finalist.


“She’s really the sweetest human,” Roberson gushed on a media call with reporters earlier this month, the stars in her eyes plainly evident.


A little intimidated, Roberson initially kept her distance and watched the eight-time Olympian Chusovitina practice.


“But then for vault finals obviously we were in the same group, and we got to talking. She’s just so sweet,” Roberson said. “I was like, ‘Good luck!’ And at the end (coach) Cecile (Landi) was like, ‘We’ve got to get a picture,’ because I was too scared to ask for one.”


So even the burgeoning confidence Roberson has discovered since moving to train at Simone Biles’ World Champions Centre gym last autumn has its limits. (In all fairness, Chusovitina tends to have that effect on people.)


Confidence was something the open and accessible Roberson returned to again and again during the call, which also touched on what it’s been like leaving Texarkana to train near Houston (“You can go out and go to Topgolf or go to the big movie theater or go to the humongous shopping mall that has so many shopping places you’re going to be broke by the time you get out of there”), her love for her dogs Rocky and Apollo and Pomeranians in general (“I think I am going to have 18 when I get older!”) and bonding with Biles over on-and-off battles with the dreaded twisties (“She said how much she hated that feeling, and I was like, ‘Yes, yes girl, I understand.’”)


A child prodigy who could do elite-level tumbling by the time she was in third grade, Roberson came up through a club in Texarkana but felt her progress stall as she entered the senior elite ranks last year.


“Somehow something switched, and I just lost all my confidence on everything,” she said. “It was just never good, I don’t think.”

Joscelyn Roberson competes in the beam routine during the U.S. Classic on July 30, 2022 in West Valley City, Utah.


Positive change commenced on her second day at WCC, when Roberson began working with coach Laurent Landi on two tumbling passes she had never been able to get a handle on: a double-twisting double layout and a full-twisting double layout, now the first and second lines in her floor routine.


“It had been a mental block for years and years, and I never thought I would really do it,” Roberson said. “It really weighed me down, even though I was never doing it in competition. Like when I would go to practice and if they would even mention me doing a double-double it would destroy my whole day because I was so scared of it.


“So really overcoming that and conquering that skill and making it as perfect as I can I think really boosted my confidence a lot.”


Uneven bars, the apparatus that has been her biggest challenge, is coming along nicely too.


“At my other gym we were just trying to make a bar routine, but here we want to perfect a bar routine,” Roberson said.


She’s gone from being able to make one routine during a practice to doing three in a row.


“A year ago there was no way I could ever do that,” she said. “The way I did bars, it looked timid and scared. So (Laurent Landi’s) just really been working with me a lot to fix that and really swing on the bars. It’s still a work in progress, but we’re getting there.”


Cairo capped the first segment of a world tour that has already taken Roberson to Stuttgart, Germany, in March, where she captured the all-around and vault titles over a field sown with Olympians and world championships medalists at the prestigious DTB Pokal.


Later this month it’s off to Medellin, Colombia, for the Pan American Championships, in company with World Champions Centre teammates Zoe Miller and Tiana Sumanasekera, as well as Nola Matthews, Addison Fatta, and traveling alternate Madray Johnson.


Roberson is already eyeing a place on the U.S. team that will head to Antwerp, Belgium, this October seeking a seventh consecutive world title. The Olympic Games Paris 2024 are only a little more than a year away, too. And further on down the line, she’ll become a member of the University of Arkansas team, where she will be coached by 2012 Olympic team gold medalist Jordyn Wieber, a longtime source of inspiration.


Wieber’s wisdom for Roberson? Make the most of everything, but most of all, make friends.


“She really didn’t give me any gymnastics advice, more just enjoy it, because it’s something you’ll never forget, and the relationships you make are something you never lose,” Roberson reported.


“With my team, she said to really enjoy it with them, because it’s the times when you’re on those assignments together with no one else except that group of girls, your bond is so strong.”

Blythe Lawrence has covered four Olympic Games and is a freelance contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. Follow her on Twitter @_BlytheLawrence.