Heading to Nanning, China for the 2014 World Championships, the team was in good spirits. What first caught my attention when we arrived in Nanning were the amount of people photographing us at the airport. I didn’t know whether to think it was because they knew we were gymnasts coming to compete at the worlds or just the rare occasion of a large group of Americans arriving in Nanning. I soon knew the answer on our ride to the hotel — for the whole hour-long bus ride, I don’t think one minute went by without seeing a gymnastics sign, even the scaffolding had signs attached to it for the 2014 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships. It was invigorating to be in a city filled with people who really loved the sport of gymnastics.
After a few days of adjusting to the time change and shaking off the jet lag, the team was in competition mode. During my training my mind was elsewhere regarding my concerns for my mother’s recovery after her long and complicated surgery. Before I go into detail of the ups and downs of my preparation for the competition, I’m going to briefly explain the whole process of “competition goes” for world championships:
First you compete in “prelims,” which qualifies you to all of the finals competitions. There is the team finals, all-around finals, and individual event finals. Team finals consist of the top eight teams in prelims after a full competition. All-around features the top 24 all-around gymnasts (meaning you have to compete in all six events to qualify). The individual event finals competition features the top eight gymnasts on each event separately.
I came to worlds expecting to compete in the preliminary competition to qualify for the team final competition, all-around final and any individual event finals. During the prelims, countries can form a team of five competing athletes for each apparatus, of which only four scores are counted, to qualify for the team final. The athletes selected to compete in each event also have a chance to qualify for that individual event final, or all-around if they compete all six events.
For a long time, vault has been my weakest event and all-around my strongest. I found myself in a position where I was constantly proving my worthiness. I was competing in all-around in prelims at the same time I was training to prepare to compete in two or possibly four events for the team competition. The final selection of who competes in which events is decided by the coaching staff. I’ve always been the type of athlete that likes to know what the plan is in order to mentally prepare for competition. Not knowing what events I was going to compete in was very difficult for me during practice. I like to limit my risk of injury during the last stages of preparation of training before competition. I was under the impression that if I were able to land my vault in training I would be rewarded the chance to compete in the prelims. During the official training at the competition arena before prelims we had a mock meet. To prove myself to the staff, I raised my hand and preformed my new vault. I barely landed my vault, but was still on my feet. It was a relief that I landed it under pressure, knowing that if fell I would not get the chance to compete in the all-around for my country.
I knew all-around would be my best chance to earn a medal for the U.S. after the team final. It was to my surprise that two days before prelims, I was not chosen to compete vault in qualifications. Naturally, I was disappointed in myself and I spent the remaining days before the competition thinking about anything else I could have done to prove myself. I thought maybe my second-place finish in the all -around at the U.S. championships would be enough to solidify my chance…but it wasn’t. I thought to myself, “If my vault score won’t count or affect the team in competition, then why wouldn’t I be given my strongest chance to represent my country?” Then shortly after discovering the final lineup I realized that the most important goal was the team performance, even if I wouldn’t be given a strong chance to medal for my country individually.
Qualifications went by fast and the U.S. successfully made the team final. Before I knew it, I was marching out to team final. The unexpected loud roar from the crowd as we marched out gave me chills. I was selected to compete on parallel bars and high bar in the second half of the team competition. During the first half I was warming up in the back gym and after every turn, I ran to the TV to watch and cheer as my teammates competed. I was finally walking up to the podium to compete. I prepared the bars and raised my hand to go. Halfway through my routine I couldn’t help but hear the crowd start to roar from a successful routine executed by an athlete on the Chinese team. It gave me a jolt of realization that this was in fact THE team final at worlds. I hadn’t competed in a world team final since 2011. I dismounted and watched my teammates deliver stellar routines…and then next was high bar. I was chalked up waiting for the judge to give the go ahead. I felt a nervous wave of energy through my whole body as I saluted. As I was swinging and flying through the air I heard the crowd erupt again. The cheers from my teammates cut through the sound of the crowd. It gave me a sense of confidence that they were right there with me. I dismounted and stuck the landing. It was the best feeling in the world to finish a hit routine followed by the uplifting support of my teammates.
Our last event as a team was floor and I knew we were going to perform very well. I yelled louder than I ever have! I’ve always been more nervous watching than competing myself, but when they stepped out on the floor I knew they were going to give their all. After our last competitor finished with a stuck landing, our whole team celebrated. We nabbed a team bronze medal. What an intense competition that was! After all our hard work, we stood up on the podium and proudly received our medals. Although I wish I could have been out on the floor competing, I knew the U.S. coaching staff made the right choice in pulling me out of the all-around. I had confidence that my teammates were going to go out there and represent USA the best way they could…and they did! All the way to the end, they emulated that fighting spirit that our country is known for. It was inspiring to see my teammates competing in the individual event finals, wrapping up the competition. Nanning was a great learning experience for me and I can already tell that next year’s world championships in Glasgow are going to be even more amazing!