Nia Dennis, the 2014 silver all-around medalist at U.S. Championships, has left Buckeye Gymnastics to train at Legacy Elite, a move now confirmed by the changes made to USA Gymnastics’ women’s national team list.
On Saturday, rumors began to surface when Dennis posted online about leaving home, stating she was going to miss all of her friends back in Ohio. A source at Buckeye confirmed exclusively to The Gymternet on Monday that Dennis had in fact packed her bags and headed to Chicago to train with Jiani Wu and Yuejiu Li, coaches (and parents) of the 2012 Olympic alternate Anna Li (who now coaches alongside mom and dad) as well as sisters Bridgey and Mackenzie Caquatto, both of whom racked up international medals in the last quad before competing at the University of Florida (Bridgey was the 2011 Pan Am all-around champion while Mackenzie played an integral role in Team USA’s World silver medal in 2010).
Wu and Li were both gymnasts themselves, competing as members of the Chinese Olympic team in 1984, where Wu won team bronze and Li won team silver. Li was also a Chinese national coach in 2007 and the team coordinator in 2008, helping both the men and women to team gold at home in Beijing while Wu served as the U.S. women’s assistant coach at World Championships in 2010 and 2011. They currently coach junior elite Gabby Perea, a 13-year-old standout on beam.
Legacy Elite is known for producing strong gymnasts on bars, where both their daughter and the Caquatto sisters stood out as elites. Dennis showed a real talent for bars as a junior, so it’s possible their strength at coaching this event stood out to her as she sought to change gyms, though the reasoning is also likely pragmatic – the Dennis family has a friend in Chicago who is able to provide a place to stay for the budding Olympic hopeful.
Why did Dennis leave? It seems she was just looking for a change in coaching. Though she’s trained with Kittia Carpenter at Buckeye for her entire elite career, Dennis was reportedly frustrated with some of her results over the past couple of years. Though she was named to the eight-member Pan American team training squad at the ranch in early June, she was not selected for the five-member team currently competing in Toronto, which was apparently the “final straw” in her decision to leave.
While fiercely talented, Dennis has shown a tendency to let her nerves get to her, falling three times at last year’s national championships where she was expected to take the junior title by a wide margin. Instead, she lost gold by four tenths. This level of inconsistency in pressure situations could be why she was left off the Pan Ams team, causing her to seek out coaching that could possibly help with these issues as she hopes to continue her quest for a spot on next year’s Olympic team.
No, as some have speculated, it has nothing to do with Gabby Douglas coming to Buckeye to train, a move she made last summer after leaving Chow’s for a second time. The two are “best friends” who did everything together, according to one of their teammates, and both have expressed missing one another after Dennis’ departure.
It’s possible Dennis was actually inspired by her now former Buckeye teammate, who went through a similar last-minute move from Excalibur to Chow’s after the elite season in 2010 because she felt frustrated with her coaching in Virginia. Though she got off to a bumpy start at her first meets with Chow in 2011, Douglas helped her team to gold at World Championships later that year and debuted dozens of upgrades at the American Cup just months later, earning the highest all-around score despite being an exhibition gymnast and not an official competitor. And we all know where she went after that – do historic Olympic team and all-around gold medals ring a bell?
It’s definitely a bizarre choice for a gymnast to leave her gym right at the start of the big elite season, just two weeks before the Secret U.S. Classic is set to begin in Hoffman Estates, right outside of Dennis’ new home base. Like Douglas in 2010, most gymnasts who have moved gyms in recent memory have waited until the hiatus after World Championships, though it’s clear that in this situation, when the new opportunity presented itself, it was something she couldn’t pass up.
Though Classics will be too soon to detect any real changes in Dennis’ competitive ability, we are excited to see her in action for the first time since last summer’s domestic season and we wish her the best of luck with her new coaches and gym.
Article by Lauren Hopkins