GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Laura Zeng doesn’t consider herself superstitious, but, as always, she had to eat some dark chocolate and take a cold shower Saturday.
Then the highly decorated rhythmic gymnast rubbed her two good luck charms — a hand-carved keychain her sister got in China and a random souvenir her father purchased at a gas station.
Once Zeng had completed her ritual, she had no trouble making history at the USA Gymnastics Championships at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Zeng won her fourth consecutive all-around rhythmic championship, becoming the first American woman to accomplish the feat since Sue Soffe captured six in a row from 1976-81.
“Nationals is always a super big competition, so of course there were nerves,” Zeng, of Libertyville, Illinois, said. “But also, I’ve done this for at least four years in a row, also when I was a junior. I also felt all the support from the rhythmic community, so I felt very uplifted.
“So even though I was nervous, it was a good nerves.”
If Zeng had any jitters, they weren’t apparent.
The 2016 Olympian built on her strong performances over the past two days and clinched her latest title with solid performances in the clubs and ribbon events Saturday night.
Zeng finished with a combined score of 138.319, nearly three points better than runner-up Evita Griskenas’ 135.386.
“I wouldn’t say that I was 100 percent confident, but I was feeling good because I practiced so much,” Zeng said. “So no matter what the circumstances, just go out there and kill the routine.”
Zeng was the first rhythmic gymnast to compete in the ribbon event on Saturday night, and she appeared in control as she gracefully moved around the floor, tossing her purple, pink and orange ribbon above her head and then catching it in midair with ease.
Her all-around performance came a day after she won the individual titles for both ribbon and clubs. She also won the hoop title on Thursday.
Zeng has won every all-around national title since making her senior debut in 2015, plus 10 event championships. Her resume also includes Youth Olympic bronze, five Pan American Games golds, five world cup medals and the highest all-around finish ever by an American at worlds (sixth).
“It’s such an honor to be here over the Fourth of July weekend because this week is all about celebrating America’s birthday, and I was just glad I was able to do it here in Greensboro with the rhythmic and gymnastics community,” Zeng said.
It’s a good thing she brought her lucky charms and dark chocolate with her.
“I’m a little superstitious,” Zeng admits.
Earlier in the day, Elizabeth Kapitonova earned the rhythmic spot on Team USA for the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018, which take place Oct. 6-18.
Kapitonova, the 2017 and 2018 U.S. junior rhythmic all-around champion, secured her place with an eight-routine score of 120.937. She’ll follow in the footsteps of Zeng, who competed at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China. Her bronze medal at those Games marked the first time a U.S. rhythmic gymnast medaled at an Olympic or Youth Olympic Games.