In women’s artistic gymnastics (WAG) it is inevitable that most gymnasts competing in the American program will change clubs at some point in her career. Most elite gymnasts get their start at a non-elite club. Their parents sign them up for classes as toddlers and at some point in their elementary school years or even before kindergarten a decision has to be made.
The child clearly has potential to one day compete at a high level and she needs the elite level coaching that her current club can not provide. The parents and often her current coach will work together to find a new club with the resources to properly train a high caliber gymnast. For the young gymnast in question, she will transfer clubs at such a young age that it will be typically four to five years before she is ever entered into the major junior domestic competitions such as U.S. Classics, Winter Cup, or Junior National Championships.
This club change occurs under circumstances where a high octane club inherits a prospect, but the prospect is so young that virtually all of her elite-level training will be done by the new club. When this pattern doesn’t occur, it is because a gymnast joined an elite club first at a recreational level, and was later selected for more advanced coaching. Major clubs like WOGA and Texas Dreams (both located in Texas) have the ability to take on over 1,000 children at the recreational level, while still having the resource to run a separate elite-level program featuring gymnasts who are contenders for one of the few spots on the National Team.
Currently, Leanne Wong and Kayla DiCello are the leaders of the American program due to their status as reigning All-Around medalists from the 2021 World Championships while most veterans from the previous Olympic quad are on hiatus.
Leanne first appears in the MyMeetScores database with her current club (GAGE) as far back as 2010 when she was 6 years old. Kayla DiCello first appears in the MyMeetScores database with her current club (Hill’s) when she was also 6 years old. At the 2021 Junior National Championships the gold medals went to Katelyn Jong, Kailin Chio, Joscelyn Roberson, and Kaliya Lincoln.
The first three gymnasts, Jong (Metroplex), Chio (GymCats) and Roberson (Northeast Texas) all appear with their current clubs for the first time at 6 years of age in the database. But Kaliya Lincoln (WOGA) was different. Lincoln didn’t make her first appearance for WOGA until February 2020.
Kaliya may be the exception for the 2021 U.S. National Championships, but she was not the exception for WOGA. At the 2022 trials for the Pan American Gymnastics Championships WOGA had four gymnasts in attendance. Only one of those four gymnasts (Skye Blakely) could be described as a longtime WOGA member. As for the other three:
Brooke Pierson: Formerly trained in Oregon, made her first official appearance for WOGA in January of 2020.
Hezly Rivera: Formerly trained at MG Elite and ENA in New Jersey, made her first official appearance for WOGA in December of 2021.
Finley Weldon: Formerly trained at Chow’s in Iowa, made her first official appearance for WOGA in January of 2022.
None of these four gymnasts are WOGA’s most high profile acquisitions in recent years. That honor goes to Konnor McClain who moved from West Virginia to WOGA in Spring of 2021. Later in the year she competed at the World Championships. There was also Ella Kate Parker who won the Winter Cup in early 2022 while representing a club in Cincinnati, only to switch to WOGA later in the Summer.
All of these examples occurred for various reasons. Some gymnasts may have wanted a different training environment, some left their old coaches on good terms, another had criticisms regarding her former coaches after departing. One gymnast was forced to leave because her old club was unable to train gymnasts in wake of abuse allegations, another is reported to have left due to a sick family member and wanted to be closer to home.
But one trait these stories all have in common is WOGA has extended an open arm and made itself available to elites from older age groups who are in need of a new location. The open doors policy and being quick to jump at the opportunity to attract an established young gymnast has been a factor in WOGA’s resurgence. The trend has greatly enhanced WOGA’s pool of athletes.
Right alongside WOGA, their fellow Texas club World Champions Centre (WCC) has embraced this concept as well. At the 2022 Pan American Gymnastics Championships Dulcy Caylor of WCC won the Junior All-Around title. Instantly making her one of the most closely watched juniors WCC has in its ranks. Dulcy Caylor now trains at WCC, but in 2021 she trained at another high profile club, Texas Dreams.
Dulcy is not an isolated example for WCC. In 2021 World Champions Centre famously fielded a staggering seven gymnasts in senior competition between the Winter Cup and U.S. Classic. Four of those gymnasts were newcomers to WCC. Amari Drayton made her first appearance for WCC in January 2020, Jordan Chiles (formerly of Naydenov) in January 2021, Olivia Greaves (formerly of MG Elite) in February 2021, and Sydney Barros (formerly of Texas Dreams) in May 2021.
The significance of this is WCC and WOGA are currently the two most powerful clubs in the USA Gymnastics system. WOGA has historically been the most successful American club of the 21st century, while WCC has maximum power and creditability due to its association with Simone Biles. In both cases they are seeking to establish themselves as a top destination for elites looking to make a move.
Whereas recruiting kindergartners or gymnasts from slightly older age groups involves building an elite gymnast from the ground up. What is occurring with WCC and WOGA is taking gymnasts from older age groups who already have the skills to excel at the elite level. Instead, these clubs are refining and perfecting the skills of existing elite gymnasts.
If WOGA and WCC are the clubs occupying the top two spots in the power structure, one more gym is looking to join them. And that gym is from Minnesota and operates under the name Twin City Twisters (TCT). The club had success in the 2016 Olympic quad with Maggie Nichols who only narrowly missed out on making the Olympic team. In the 2020 Olympic quad the club built on Nichols’ success with Grace McCallum who successfully made the 2021 Olympic team.
For a club that appears to be in a hot streak where it is becoming increasingly successful with each passing year, this might be the Olympic cycle where TCT goes from a well known gym, to the best known gym outside of Texas. Between trials for the Pan American Gymnastics Championships and U.S. Classics, TCT had five different gymnasts participate in these two competitions.
But as was the case before, only 1 of 5 can be described as a longtime member of TCT, the exception being Elle Mueller who has been with the club since 2014. As for the others, Levi Jung-Ruivivar made her first official appearance for TCT in January 2020, Gabrielle Hardie in February 2021, Katelyn Rosen in January 2022, and Lexi Zeiss in January 2022 as well.
For TCT, these new additions played a major role. Lexi Zeiss would go on to become the highest ranking American at the 2022 Pan American Gymnastics Championships. Katelyn Rosen finished 3rd in the All-Around and 1st on Floor at the 2022 U.S. Classic. Like WCC and WOGA, Twin City Twisters suddenly has a larger pool of successful gymnasts due in large part to the way it acquires gymnasts from other clubs.
Disclaimer: With all the gymnasts mentioned by name for TCT, WCC, and WOGA, I do want to emphasize the “first appearance” wording terminology. Not every gymnast can be pinpointed to the exact month they began training at their new clubs. But they can be pinpointed to their competition debut with the new club in question. Keep in mind that many of these gymnasts started training at their new locations months before their competition debut, in some case during the 2020 season when most competitions were cancelled.
What TCT, WCC, and WOGA are doing goes beyond embracing kindergartners at the introductory level, but finding gymnasts at older age levels. Often times acquiring gymnasts who already compete for well known gyms, already have strong reputations, and/or are the verge of earning the first major assignments of their careers.
Recruiting such gymnasts has happened before, and revealing the concept isn’t exactly a breaking news story for gymnastics fans. But what is a noteworthy trend is that three of the most important clubs in the country have made this a central part of their program philosophy. It has allowed them to appear at training camps and domestic competitions with much larger delegations. For these three clubs, they are not just obtaining “newcomers” but retaining their longtime gymnasts as well.
For the gymnasts and parents, this tactic is empowering them. Giving gymnasts and their families a wider range of options as they pursue their Olympic aspirations. This trend is also strengthening the friendships within the sport. Gymnasts are embracing their new training partners as if they were lifelong friends.
WOGA, TCT, and WCC made the decision to allow themselves to be a home for gymnasts in need of a new one. This decision has allowed for the clubs to strengthen themselves and it will be a critical part of their success in future years. But the other winners of this expanding trend are the gymnasts themselves.