The nation’s best junior and senior acrobatic and rhythmic gymnastics athletes, as well as trampoline and tumbling athletes, will compete at the USA Gymnastics Championships this weekend in Providence, Rhode Island.
For a select few senior athletes, the competition will mark the moment they have spent much of their lives working toward.
At the conclusion of events on Sunday, USA Gymnastics will name the first eight members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team that will travel to Rio de Janeiro: one individual rhythmic gymnast, a five-person rhythmic gymnastics group and two trampolinists (one man and one woman).
The competition began Wednesday, although senior events ramp up beginning Friday afternoon at the Dunkin Donuts Center and continue through Sunday night.
So what do you need to know?
Who Should We Watch For In Rhythmic Gymnastics?
Laura Zeng is the overwhelming favorite to claim the sole individual rhythmic spot on the Olympic team. One year after winning the U.S. all-around title as well as the U.S. hoop, clubs and ribbon titles in her senior debut, Zeng is poised to return to the top of the podium in Providence. The 16-year-old from Libertyville, Illinois, has been a U.S. phenom on the international stage. After winning bronze at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games - Team USA's first rhythmic gymnastics medal at either a Youth Olympic or Olympic Games - Zeng had a stellar 2015. She swept all five rhythmic gold medals at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games, as only the second woman ever to do so, then earned Team USA's highest-ever finish at the world championships when she was eighth in the all-around final. Last month, Zeng became the first U.S. athlete to medal at a world cup when she claimed bronzes in hoop and ribbon.
Who Will Be Zeng's Toughest Competition?
There are several other strong gymnasts who’ll be vying for titles this weekend. Camilla Feeley, also 16, of Highland Park, Illinois, is the 2016 Pacific Rim team and rope/ribbon champion and all-around, hoop and ball silver medalist. She finished fourth in the all-around and was the hoop silver medalist at the 2015 U.S. championships and was also a member of the world championships team and, like Zeng, trains at the North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics Center.
Aliya Protto, 20, of Culver City, California, will also be competing. She was the 2016 Pacific Rim team, all-around, hoop and ball and clubs champion as well as the rope/ribbon silver medalist and was the 2015 U.S. ball silver medalist and clubs bronze medalist.
Competing for the first time on the senior circuit at the national championships will be Evita Griskenas, 15, of Orland Park, Illinois. She was the 2015 junior national all-around and hoop champion and also trains at the North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics Center.
Who Are The Names To Watch In Men’s Trampoline?
On the men’s side, Steven Gluckstein of Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, will be seeking not only his second trip to the Olympic Games after competing in London in 2012 but also his sixth U.S. trampoline title. Gluckstein’s 2012 trip to the Games didn’t go as planned. He was 12th after his first routine, and in the second routine his attempt to go even bigger resulted in a just enough of a mistake that he landed on the pad and his competition was over. The United States is still seeking its first Olympic medalist in trampoline, and Gluckstein, who turns 26 later this month, still hopes it will be him.
Some of his toughest competition for a title and the one coveted 2016 Olympic spot is someone he knows well. His brother, Jeffrey Gluckstein, is also hoping to be the U.S. men’s representative to the Games. Steven won the national title last year for the fifth time and was a silver medalist at the 2015 Pan American Games, but 23-year-old Jeffrey was the 2016 Pacific Rim silver medalist and is a three-time national champion himself, last winning back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014. He was also the top U.S. finisher at the Rio rest event in April.
Logan Dooley, who was the 2015 U.S. trampoline silver medalist and 2014 bronze medalist, is also a strong contender for his Olympic berth after serving as an alternate the past two Games. The 28-year-old from Lake Forest, California, has been a member of seven world championships teams. He currently leads the Olympic selection point rankings and has earned three points that will be added to his score from this weekend's competition.
How About Women’s Trampoline?
Charlotte Drury became the first American woman to win trampoline world cup gold medal when she took the individual event at the 2014 Minsk World Cup. She was also the U.S. champion that same year before winning a bronze medal at last year’s competition. This year, Drury, of Laguna Beach, California, finished seventh among eligible competitors at the Olympic test event in Rio in April and ensured the U.S. a spot at the Olympic Games. Drury, who turned 20 on June 4, took home wins this year already in both the Winter Classic in February and the U.S. Elite Challenge in May. She leads the Olympic selection point rankings with 4.5 points.
Some of her top competition will include Nicole Ahsinger, 18, of Lafayette, Louisiana, who was the U.S. 2015 silver medalist and a member of the 2014 U.S. Youth Olympic Team, as well as 2015 U.S. trampoline champion Clare Johnson, 19, of Huntsville, Alabama. Ahsinger has two points in the selection process.
What’s At Stake For The Rhythmic Gymnastics Group?
The United States secured its Olympic bid at the 2015 world championships, making this the first time the United States has qualified a group in the discipline. The only other time the United States has competed as a group in rhythmic gymnastics in the Games was in 1996, when they earned a spot as the host country. Still, the group consists of six women — Kiana Eide, Jennifer Rokhman, Monica Rokhman, Kristen Shaldybin, Natalie McGiffert and Alisa Kano — and only five will compete in Rio. The sixth group member will serve as an alternate, and that decision will be announced on Sunday at the conclusion of this event.