The Path To the National Team

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U.S. junior national team members Leanne Wong, Konnor McClain, Sunisa Lee, Olivia Greaves, Kayla DiCello, and Skye Blakely

Every year, we begin following the elite competition in the U.S. as soon as the first qualifiers begin in January, more than six months before the pinnacle of the summer season concludes with national championships and the naming of the U.S. national team.

With hundreds of kids starting out the journey and around 15 juniors and seniors making the team on average, it’s obvious just how difficult it is to make it all the way. This year, we thought it might be fun to show you just how difficult it is.

The Senior Path

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The first stage in making the national team as a senior is actually being an elite gymnast. The majority of senior gymnasts competing at the elite level have been elite gymnasts for years, and express their intent to continue at the elite level, but a number of girls wait until they reach the senior level before attending an elite qualifier. A total of 39 senior-level gymnasts came into the 2018 season with the intention to compete at the elite level this year.

As a note, I didn’t include any seniors from last year who didn’t come into the 2018 season with the intention to compete elite. Several gymnasts dropped down to level 10 or moved on to NCAA programs in between the two seasons, so I kept this list only to those who were planning on competing at the elite level.

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Among the 39 gymnasts who attended elite qualifiers or returned from competing in the previous elite season, only seven didn’t qualify to the elite level and to the American and U.S. Classic meets. Gymnasts earned qualifying scores by one of several ways this year — through the 2018 national qualifiers, through routine verification at national team camps in the 2017-2018 season, and through last year’s U.S. Championships.

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A total of 26 gymnasts met the qualification standards for national championships this year, including five who qualified as members of last year’s world championships team, four who qualified through international assignments in the 2017-2018 season, four who qualified through verification camps, 11 who qualified through classic meets, and two who qualified through injury petitions.

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Of the 26 who qualified to nationals, only 21 ended up competing. Of those 21, just eight were selected as members of the 2018-2019 U.S. senior national team, which amounts to about 20.5% of the gymnasts who started out the season as elite and national team hopefuls.

The Junior Path

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The path to the national team is even tougher for the juniors than it is for the seniors. With so many new kids coming into elite for the first time at younger ages, the number of first-time elite attempts on top of the returning juniors is always through the roof! This year a total of 80 gymnasts attempted to compete at the junior elite level.

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Juniors can qualify to the elite level and to the American and U.S. Classic meets by earning a score of 50.500 at the previous year’s U.S. Championships, at a national team verification camp, or at a national qualifier. Of the 80 gymnasts who attempted elite, only 52 of them (65%) reached the elite level and qualified to classics.

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This year was one of the most brutal national qualifiers for juniors, with more than half of the junior elites getting the axe at the classic meets and only 25 of them (about 31% of the original 80 who attempted) reaching the national qualifying standard of a 51.000 all-around score at the classic meets, a verification camp, or an international assignment.

Eight juniors earned their nationals scores at camp and in international competitions, but the majority qualified through the American Classic on July 7 or the U.S. Classic on July 28.

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24 of the 25 gymnasts who qualified to nationals at the junior level ended up competing, but only six would go on to make the 2018-2019 U.S. junior national team. Of the original 80 attempting elite in 2018 with the hopes of maybe making the team, only 7.5% were able to eventually make it to this final step.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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26 thoughts on “The Path To the National Team

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    • They add girls to the team on an as-needed basis. At the Feb national team camp for example, they’ll probably add at least 5 juniors, and if girls like Emma Malabuyo and Ragan Smith end up looking strong at the worlds camp and get on the team or get alternate spots, they’ll add them as well as seniors early next year when they make international team decisions. For the last five or so years they’ve always done six juniors at nationals but then add more during the year.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The Path To the National Team | species specific

  3. What does it exactly mean to be on the national team? Is there anything they get to do that people on the national team don’t? Also, when is worlds selection camp?


    • They get some funding, which can be big if you’re not made of money. The national team also forms the pool of athletes who can be called on for intl assignments, though there is some leeway for that because the US typically doesn’t fill up their entire possible national team after Nationals. So say they have 15 possible senior spots, they have only filled 8, leaving a couple of spots to be added throughout the rest of the year if someone comes back from injury/improves a lot and they want to send the person on an international assignment.


    • Follow-up question/clarification: So here’s my question, if a senior isn’t on the national team, does that mean they can’t compete internationally (specifically, I’m thinking about worlds)?? Also, is the national team not complete yet? Will more seniors will be added?
      Thanks! Christina


  4. I like the graphics, though it seems a bit odd to put people who are on the elite path but could not possibly be part of the US team because they don’t have the right citizenship (e.g. Ira Alexeeva) and/or are already committed to competing elite for other countries (e.g. Sze En Tan, who is training in the US on a scholarship provided by the Singaporean government) because no matter how well they did at Stage 2, they could never qualify for Stage 3.


    • Right, but they still competed at the qualifiers and I included everyone who was at each qualifier regardless of their international status. Alexeeva, for example, was still in citizenship limbo at the time as she wasn’t yet accepted into the Russian program and she had competed at classics in the past, and Corinne Bunagan hadn’t yet opted to change her nationality to the Philppines. At the time, she was definitely attempting another shot at the U.S. national system, and Alexeeva was still in limbo, so I didn’t want to go back and retroactively take them out of the qualifier lists. Sze En Tan is the only one who used the qualifier specifically for experience and not to qualify, but I still include her because she was on the roster and competed and technically qualified for classics. Leaving her on is the same thing as leaving someone on who qualified to classics but then withdrew due to injury (aka didn’t technically miss out on her nationals score but other circumstances took her out of the picture, which is part of the full story).


      • I understand in the case of Alexeeva and Bunagan since their status was more unknown but I still disagree about Sze En, since the whole question you are asking is ‘how difficult is it to get on the US National Team’ and she is already clearly on the national team of another country, has competed for them in the past, and was definitely going to continue competing for them.


        • Well she still reached the US qualifying score for classics at a qualifier so she’s included in the number of gymnasts who attempted that score and reached it. Besides, with or without her, the fact remains that still only about 20% end up making the national team among those who start out the season going to qualifiers (or having qualified through the previous season/international meets). I included her to show an exact count of how many seniors went to qualifiers and how many of those were able to meet the qualifying score to classics. She was one who met it and so whether she’s international or domestic, she was still able to get that score, so she’s included in the total of people who received that score even if that was going to be the end game for her for whatever reason, just like it was also the end game for girls who dropped out due to injury or changing nations.


  5. A lot of those seniors who didn’t make it to Nationals dropped out of the process at some point because they compete internationally for other countries and the US doesn’t allow guests at Nationals. Everybody knows about Laney Madsen and Irina Alexeeva, and Sze En Tan also competes for Singapore off the top of my head – in fact according to your Asian Games coverage she’s in Jakarta for them right now lol. I think it’s a little unfair to include these voluntary dropouts in the list – they may have started the year intending to compete elite, but they didn’t start it intending to wear a USA on their leotard while doing so, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they won’t be.


    • Dropouts are part of the qualification process though. Some drop out for injuries and others drop out for other reasons. Corinne Bunagan started the season expecting to try for the US team but realized she wouldn’t make it and so she dropped out to compete for the Philippines. Laney Madsen only dropped out to compete for Bulgaria because she didn’t come close to getting her U.S. qualifying score. Sze En Tan is the only one who went into this season knowing she wasn’t going to be representing the US in the future but she’s still included because she reached the U.S. elite qualifying score and technically qualified elite, similar to Irina Alexeeva in 2016 when she qualified to U.S. elite and competed at classics; nationals is the only meet off-limits for those who aren’t U.S. citizens. Everyone else who wasn’t injured started out as U.S. hopefuls and then decided to drop out either because an opportunity came along like Alexeeva or because they didn’t qualify and searched for other opportunities like Madsen and Bunagan. Just because they dropped out didn’t mean they weren’t part of the process at the beginning, just like Ashton Locklear dropping out to deal with her injury doesn’t mean that she didn’t qualify from worlds.


  6. This fascist blog has censored my IP address, but I am not surprised they try to ban my posts since IT IS FINANCED BY USAG, which has no interest in letting robotic american gymnastics being exposed.


  7. I don’t follow the juniors very much, but is Annie Beard injured? I noticed that she won several medals in 2017 but I don’t think she competed this year?



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