Shilese Jones bided her time patiently, awaiting the moment that finally arrived at the previous year’s U.S. gymnastics championships.
After narrowly missing a spot on the prior year’s Olympic team and enduring the loss of her father to kidney disease, Jones persevered and delivered an electrifying performance at the national competition.
Securing a second-place finish at the event in Tampa, Florida, Jones earned herself a spot at the world championships in England. In a surprising turn of events, she clinched a trio of medals, including team gold and all-around silver.
With her remarkable performance just two years before the 2024 Olympic Games, it seemed that Jones might already be on her way to booking a flight to Paris. But the landscape of American gymnastics can change swiftly.
In the time since Jones’ breakout, Konnor McClain, last year’s national champion, has faced injury setbacks. Additionally, three Olympic all-around champions have returned to the scene, while another is gearing up for a comeback. Furthermore, two Tokyo Olympic medal-winning gymnasts have remained active in competition. As is customary in gymnastics, fresh talents from the new generation continue to emerge.
As discussed in a recent TeamUSA.com article, the upcoming U.S. Olympic women’s team for the next year could potentially feature an unprecedented four individual gold medalists. However, given the unprecedented depth of talent in the U.S. gymnastics program, even these seasoned Olympians aren’t guaranteed a spot on the team.
The Xfinity U.S. Gymnastics Championships this weekend will serve as a critical test for the American women. Competing in San Jose, California, on both Friday and Sunday, this national competition stands as a pivotal moment for the gymnasts. It will play a crucial role in selecting the five-woman team for the upcoming world championships in Antwerp, Belgium, beginning on September 30th.
Shilese Jones, now 21, remains resolute and unwavering. She emphasized that all gymnasts, regardless of the competition, maintain their strength and determination. Her personal goals remain unchanged, and she’s committed to giving her all on the competition floor.
Undoubtedly, the standout athlete of the event is Simone Biles. The four-time Olympic champion announced her return to the sport in July, making a stunning comeback at the Core Hydration Classic earlier this month in Chicago.
Biles’ last appearance was at the Tokyo Olympics, where she qualified for all five individual event finals. However, she withdrew from four of them due to the dangerous condition known as the twisties, which disrupts a gymnast’s air awareness. Despite the challenges, she returned for the balance beam final, securing a bronze medal with a modified routine.
Since then, Biles has embarked on a tour, taken personal time, and even gotten married in May. Her triumphant return at the U.S. Classic showcased her extraordinary skill, as she dominated with a score of 59.100. Not only did she win the competition by a remarkable five points, but she also achieved the highest score in the world for the year. Barring unforeseen circumstances, she’s the clear favorite to clinch her eighth U.S. all-around title at the upcoming event. Furthermore, she’s poised to add to her impressive collection of 25 world championships medals in Antwerp.
Suni Lee, the Olympic all-around gold medalist from Tokyo, has also returned to the elite level. Despite facing a kidney ailment, the 20-year-old has made her comeback, planning to compete in bars and beam this weekend. Her performance at the U.S. Classic hinted at her potential, showcasing her abilities on these apparatuses.
This year’s event marks a historic moment, with two Olympic all-around champions participating in the U.S. championships. Looking ahead, there’s the possibility of three champions competing next year. Gabby Douglas, the 2012 Olympic all-around champion, expressed her intention to train for the Paris Olympics in a July Instagram post, although she’s yet to confirm her return to competition.
Jade Carey, the 2020 Olympic gold medalist in floor exercise and reigning world champion on vault, is set to compete in San Jose. Similarly, Jordan Chiles, a member of the U.S. team that secured a silver medal in Tokyo, will also be competing. Both gymnasts have spent the last two NCAA seasons competing – Carey at Oregon State and Chiles at UCLA. They were integral to the U.S. women’s team’s victory at the previous year’s world championships.
Amidst the seasoned competitors, a wave of talented newcomers is vying for their spot on the Olympic team. Despite grappling with a torn labrum in her shoulder and an ankle injury, Shilese Jones made a name for herself with her impressive performances on bars and floor last year. Despite not competing this year, she remains confident as she heads into the San Jose event.
Jones’ ambitions are sky-high, including her desire for a bars medal, a place on the national team, and another opportunity at the world championships, hoping to secure team gold once again. Her unwavering determination is clear: she’s aiming for the number one spot in bars.
Another rising star is Skye Blakely, a member of last year’s world championships team. Blakely’s outstanding performance on three events at the U.S. Classic demonstrated her potential. Leanne Wong, a standout from the University of Florida, claimed the runner-up position on floor exercise. Having participated in the last two world championships and finishing second in the all-around in 2021, Wong is aiming for her Olympic debut after her role as an alternate in Tokyo.
Joscelyn Roberson’s trajectory this summer has been nothing short of remarkable. After missing the national team last year, the 17-year-old moved to Simone Biles’ training facility, the World Champions Centre in Houston, and embraced international competition. Her strategy has proven successful, earning her medals in several overseas events. At the U.S. Classic, she secured third place in the all-around.
Zoe Miller, a 17-year-old gymnast from the World Champions Centre, has overcome injury challenges and is ready to showcase her exceptional bars skills at the upcoming event. Her performance earned her a $200 bet victory against training partner Biles at the U.S. Classic. While not among the top all-around contenders, Miller’s prowess on bars could potentially earn her a spot on the world championships team.
Among the promising newcomers to watch are Kaliya Lincoln, a 17-year-old Texan who claimed second place on floor at the U.S. Classic, and Tiana Sumanasekera, a 15-year-old who secured the all-around title at the Pan American Championships in May.
Although Konnor McClain won’t be competing in San Jose due to injuries and ongoing recovery from hand surgery, she’s far from giving up on her Olympic dreams. Despite not participating since the previous year’s nationals, the 18-year-old is planning to join LSU this fall and set her sights on earning an Olympic spot next year.
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