For most gymnasts, attending a World Championships or Olympic Games is the ultimate dream. In the U.S., one of the major steps to getting yourself on those teams is attending National Championships.
As we all know, in the sport of gymnastics, it’s all about who does the best on the day of competition; sometimes, the most promising gymnasts can’t seem to put it together at U.S. nationals, while others have the talent and consistency but there’s always someone just a tiny bit better so they perpetually come in second or third.
Here are some of the most successful U.S. gymnasts who have never held the title of “National Champion.”
(This is starting with 1992, and refers to senior national championships. It also counts events, and not just all around titles.)
1. Jaycie Phelps
Jaycie competes balance beam during optionals, giving a solid performance after falling in her compulsory routine.
Jaycie was famously a member of the first U.S. women’s team to win an Olympic team gold medal in Atlanta in 1996, but she never held a national title. After a disappointing finish at the 1993 junior nationals, Jaycie was ready to quit gymnastics, but decided to give Cincinnati and Mary Lee Tracy a try. The move was a good one—she quickly landed herself a spot at the 1994 Team World Championships in Germany and finished third all-around at the 1995 nationals as a senior. She came close to winning the all-around title at the 1996 nationals, but lost to Shannon Miller. In Atlanta, Jaycie competed on all four events in team finals to help her team earn the gold medal.
2. Amanda Borden
Amanda performs on floor during team optionals at the 1996 Olympic Games.
The other Cincinnati girl who made it to Atlanta, Amanda trained with Mary Lee Tracy throughout her entire career. She competed at the 1992 Olympic Trials, but narrowly missed making that team. Still, she continued to improve and remained on the national scene leading up to Atlanta. She was a world team alternate in 1993, and competed in both 1994 world championship events. Though Dominique Dawes famously won every event at the 1994 nationals, Borden picked up bronzes in the all-around, uneven bars and floor exercise events. Still, she never took home a gold from nationals; but I think being the captain of the winning Olympic team more than makes up for that!
3. Kristal Uzelac
Kristal competes on floor at the 2001 American Cup.
The years following Atlanta were not the most successful for USA Gymnatics. Sydney was a bit of a disappointment, but there was a crop of promising juniors leading up to 2004. Among them was Kristal Uzelac, who trained at the very successful Parkettes under Bill and Donna Strauss. She won the junior national all-around title three times in a row, from 1999-2001. She finally turned senior in 2002, but suffered an ill-timed injury in the middle of nationals. Kristal left gymnastics for a bit, training on-and-off at another gym, before returning to Parkettes to make a run for Athens in 2004. She ultimately decided to hang up her grips before championships, wanting time to heal before heading to college.
4. Terin Humphrey
Terin competing her silver medal-winning routine on the uneven bars at the 2004 Olympic Games.
Terin achieved the dream of being a double silver medalist at the 2004 Olympics, but was probably not always on everyone’s list to make that team. In 2002, she made the world team despite a 7th place all-around finish at nationals. In 2003, she made the team as an alternate, but due to multiple injuries and illnesses, ended up competing and contributing to the team gold medal. It seems she peaked at just the right time, because she made the Olympic team and performed solid bars and beam routines in team finals. She went on to compete for Alabama, one of the top NCAA programs, and is currently the athlete representative on the USA WAG selection committee. She also is the originator of the 2.5 turn in wolf position on the balance beam, currently featured in Simone Biles’ routine.
5. Jana Bieger
Jana competing on floor in 2006.
Jana was part of the trifecta of girls during the 2005-2008 quad coached by a parent. She was the fourth member of the 2005 individual world championship team, but was edged out of the uneven bars final by Nastia Liukin and Chellsie Memmel. She was much more successful in 2006, winning world silver medals with the team, in the all-around, and on the floor exercise. She was injured for much of 2007, and failed to make another world team. She ended up as an alternate to the Beijing Olympic team, and hasn’t competed since 2009.
6. Chellsie Memmel
Watch Chellsie nail floor at the 2008 Olympic Trials.
Yes, that’s right… three-time world champion Chellsie Memmel has never won a national championship. Chellsie hit the scene in a big way in 2003 when she was flown last minute to compete at World Championships where she led the team to a gold medal. She also qualified first to the all-around final and later tied for the gold on uneven bars. The rest of her career was full of unfortunately-timed injuries, causing her to miss out on the 2004 Olympics and the 2007 and 2011 World Championships. In 2006 she fought through the pain during team finals at worlds and was unable to compete in any individual finals, and was only able to compete on bars at the 2008 Olympic Games. Still, she is one of the most decorated U.S. gymnasts of all time – only the national title has eluded her!
Ebee kills it on bars at the 2014 American Cup.
Ebee had a promising career as a junior elite, training at the legendary Parkettes. Perhaps unfortunately, she turned senior in 2012, an Olympic year, meaning she would have no prior world championship experience to lean on. She had an incredible season in the U.S. and was a dark horse candidate for the Olympic team after finishing fourth in the all-around at the Olympic Trials. She was selected as the alternate, and then was frequently chosen to compete at World Cup events where she always did well, winning nearly every title she set out for. In 2013 she had an early injury and couldn’t compete all four events at nationals, so she was named as an alternate to the world team. She won the 2014 American Cup, won several events at the Pacific Rim Championship, and was considered to be a shoo-in for the 2014 World Championships. Ebee chose NCAA over another season in elite, and is getting ready to make her debut in the 2015 season at the prestigious Stanford University.
Article by Caitlin Jaynes