Locklear to Return at WOGA Classic

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Ashton Locklear

The international field at this year’s WOGA Classic is one of the better ones in recent years, featuring many big up-and-comers from around the globe, but perhaps the most-anticipated will be 2016 Olympic alternate Ashton Locklear, who will compete for the first time since last year’s world championships.

Locklear, 21, moved from Everest to World Champions Center last year, where she now trains under Laurent Landi. The renowned bars coach helped Madison Kocian to the Olympic Games in 2016 and then took over at WCC a year later, revamping Simone Biles’ bars to help her earn her first major international medal on the event at worlds last year.

With bars Locklear’s specialty, it will be exciting to see the effects Landi will have on her routine, but bars alone won’t make Locklear competitive for international teams this year. To that end, Locklear has been working on upping her beam difficulty, and she recently said in an interview that she is also planning on once again competing floor, something she hasn’t done since she last competed level 10 in 2013.

In addition to Locklear, we’ll also see last year’s junior national vault champion (and runner-up in the all-around) Kayla DiCello. At last year’s WOGA Classic, DiCello nearly swept the competition, winning golds on every event but vault to turn heads as a new top junior to watch, and she didn’t disappoint in 2018, winning international titles at Gymnix and Pac Rims in addition to her success at home.

DiCello, 15, is expected to be the top junior here this weekend, but also pay attention to Sophia Butler, who was eighth at nationals last year and recently stole the show at the Houston National Invitational, taking the golds on every event but beam, and on Skye Blakely, fourth at nationals last year and a current member of the junior national team (her sister Sloane will also be one to watch in the senior competition).

Other favorites among U.S. competitors in the junior field are the First State girls, Sydney Morris and Love Birt, as well as Levi Jung-Ruivivar of Paramount Elite, who captured fans’ attention with her gorgeous toe point and elegant choreography in her elite debut last summer.

Internationally, we’ll see gymnasts from Belgium, Brazil, Jamaica, Japan, Russia, and Vietnam.

In the senior competition, 2018 worlds team member Nagi Kajita will represent Japanese club Yamanashi while Sakura and Yurika Yumoto, both of whom have steadily been involved on several of Japan’s international teams over the past few years, will compete for their club, Narawa.

We’ll also see U.S.-based Tienna Nguyen representing Vietnam after a super successful appearance at the HNI meet last week, and two of Jamaica’s standouts, Kiara Richmon and Mackenzie Robinson, will also get some experience here. All three competed at world championships last year, and all three will be hoping to return again this fall, where they’ll have the opportunity to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games.

The Brazilian juniors will be super fun to watch, with all of them expected to be ones to watch going forward. Christal Bezerra, Ana Luiza Lima (Lima is actually listed as a senior, but she was born in 2005 so I’m going to assume that’s an error, unless they meant to put Ana Luiza Araujo, who is a new senior for Brazil this year, on the competitor list), Julia Soares, and Camila Almeida have done incredibly well on the international scene over the past couple of years, so now that they’re working regularly with Valeri Liukin, I can’t wait to see them here.

Russia is sending a couple of espoir-level gymnasts, Anna Kalmykova and Diana Kustova, both of whom competed at the Reykjavik International Games last weekend, and while Kustova showed some struggles there on bars and floor, her potential on all four events was truly excellent for her age (she’s only 11!) and it will be fun to watch her journey over the coming years.

I also love the Belgian junior Lisa Vaelen, who is fantastic on floor and also has a ton of promise on vault, an event often a bit neglected in this program. Vaelen, however, has regularly trained two vaults throughout her junior career and she competes an incredible handspring front pike half, so keep an eye on her this year as she’s someone who will absolutely step onto next year’s senior team as someone who should make an immediate impact.

A full list of competitors is below. The international elite session will be held on Saturday, February 9 at 7 pm local time and while it won’t be streamed live, Chalk Warrior will be filming videos throughout the meet and posting them online.

SENIORS
Eshe Bernard (Jamaica)
Sloane Blakely (WOGA)
Luisa Blanco (WOGA)
Cato Fleurackers (De Gympies)
Olivia Hollingsworth (World Champions)
Nagi Kajita (Yamanashi)
Ashton Locklear (World Champions)
Mallory Marcheli (World Champions)
Deiah-Marie Moody (WOGA)
Tienna Nguyen (Vietnam)
Kiara Richmon (Jamaica)
Mackenzie Robinson (Jamaica)
Koyuna Sakakibara (Narawa)
Morgan Trevor (WOGA)
Margo van Linden (De Gympies)
Sakura Yumoto (Narawa)
Yurika Yumoto (Narawa)
JUNIORS
Camila Almeida (Brazil)
Christal Bezerra (Brazil)
Love Birt (First State)
Skye Blakely (WOGA)
Sophia Butler (Discover)
Karleigh DiCello (Hill’s)
Kayla DiCello (Hill’s)
Amari Drayton (Olympia Hills)
Levi Jung-Ruivivar (Paramount Elite)
Anna Kalmykova (Russia)
Diana Kustova (Russia)
Ana Luiza Lima (Brazil)
Sydney Morris (First State)
Ava Siegfeldt (World Class)
Julia Soares (Brazil)
Lisa Vaelen (De Gympies)

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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