Local gymnasts will put their skills to the test at the Junior Olympic National Championships in San Antonio this week. Clay’s Aerial Training School, known as CATS, is a local tumbling gym in Provo that sent five gymnasts to the championships that began Monday and end Friday.
Gymnasts throughout the country who excel in local invitationals, state championships and regional championships are able to qualify for the national championship. The event is sponsored by USA Gymnastics and is held annually at different locations throughout America.
Participants of all ages compete at the national championships and are ranked at different levels according to their skill. Top gymnasts ranked at the Elite Level are eligible to continue on and compete for a spot in the Olympics.
Gymnasts can compete in three events at the Junior Olympic National Championships including power tumbling, trampoline and double-mini trampoline.
Clay Lowe, gymnast coach and trainer at CATS, prides himself in teaching young gymnasts new tricks and helping them compete and qualify for the championships.
“Out of our whole region, we have more qualifiers and more regional all-stars than any other team in the state,” Lowe said. “I would definitely say we’re the strongest in the state at trampoline.”
Trampoline gymnasts perform a series of acrobatic movements and somersaults while jumping in the air. Judges look at the athlete’s technique, height and form as they perform 10 consecutive tricks. Trampoline gymnasts can reach heights upwards of 20 feet.
Corinne Larson, a phlebotomist from Provo, will be competing in the trampoline event at her seventh national championship appearance. Larson and her teammates train regularly throughout the year in order to prepare for the national competition.
“I love being really high in the air, and I love the diligence you have to have in order to do the routines,” Larson said. “I like being pushed by other athletes, trying to do better than they do.”
Gymnasts competing in the tumbling event perform a series of multiple back handsprings, round-offs and flips on a lengthened spring runway. The routine is highlighted by a complex rotational maneuver that comes before landing on a dismount pad. The judges critique body tightness, pointed toes, height and dismount landing.
Floor specialist Jacob Wright, a 21-year-old from Provo, will be competing in his second national championship. He placed fifth at the Junior Olympic National Championships in Memphis, Tenn., in 2007 and has been tumbling since he was 12. While he’s not training, he spends his time coaching other gymnasts at the aerial training school.
Hundreds of young gymnasts come from different states throughout the country to compete in the national championships and look to add to their gymnastic achievements.
“I’m looking forward to competing and being able to do my passes against a larger group of [participants] than I usually get to compete against,” Wright said.
In double-mini, gymnasts sprint onto a small two-tiered trampoline, where they are vaulted into the air and perform two series of maneuvers. The event is completed as the gymnast dismounts onto a flat landing pad.
CJ Rhoades, a 14-year-old from Lindon, will be competing in trampoline and double-mini at his second national championships. Rhoades took first the past four years at the regional championships, which includes gymnasts from Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. He is the regional all-star this year and looks to one day compete at the Olympic level.
“I want to eventually become the national champion and try to get on the Olympic team,” Rhoades said.