Saturday, January 18, 2014

When The Junior Champion Becomes A Senior

I was watching the 2002 US National Championships and the spotlight was on, among others, Kristal Uzelac, the three time Junior National Champion.  At her first senior National Championships, Kristal had broken her toe prior to the competition during a training session, which caused her to scratch all but bars on night two.  Al Trautwig then mentioned how large of a adjustment it was to match the success as a junior when you transition into senior competition.  I decided to take a look at previous Junior National Champions, and weigh their success in their first year as a senior.

2012 Junior Champion- Lexie Priessman
After a dominating win at the 2012 Junior National Championships, there were high hopes for Lexie Priessman from Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy.  Priessman had been one to watch since 2010, when she won the inaugural Nastia Liukin SuperGirl Cup, placed 12th at the 2010 National Championships and improved to 4th in 2011.  After beating Maddie Desch by .55 at Nationals, Priessman started off 2013 with strong showings at the Trophy of Jesolo in Italy, Germany-Romania-USA Tri-Meet, and the Secret US Classic, where she competed well on all events but beam, where she scratched.  Much was expected of Priessman going into the 2013 P&G National Championships, where she withdrew with a sprained Achilles Tendon.  Priessman has since has surgery and looking forward to compete in 2014.

2006 Junior Champion- Shawn Johnson

Amy Van Deusen

In 2006, after placing 10th a year prior in 2005, Shawn Johnson started off strong at the 2006 Junior Pan-American Championships, before going on to dominate the 2006 Junior National Championships, where she beat Bianca Flohr by 4.15.  Johnson followed her success in St. Paul, Minnesota with a great start 2007 with a win over future Olympic All Around Champion Nastia Liukin in Jacksonville, Florida, and followed that with an All Around, Bars, and Beam win, at the 2007 Pan-American Championships.  En route to becoming the 2007 World Team, All Around, and Floor Champion, Johnson won her first senior US Title with a 3.45 point win over Shayla Worley.  In 2008, Johnson once again became the National and Olympic Trial Champion.  Once in Beijing, Johnson won the Team, All Around, and Floor Silver, and Beam Olympic Champion.

2005 Junior Champion- Natasha Kelley

After a close victory over Bianca Flohr in 2005, Natasha Kelley stepped up to the plate in 2006 as a senior and won the 2006 US Classic before finishing just 5 tenths behind Future Olympic Champion Nastia Liukin.  As a member of the 2006 World Championship Team in Aarhus, Denmark, Kelley placed 11th in Qualifications into the All Around Final, but was unable to advance to the final due to the two-per-country rule.  In Team Finals, Kelley was not used on any events as the United States won the Team Silver Medal.  Kelley started off 2007 with a second place finish at the Tyson American Cup behind Shawn Johnson and the preceded to place 10th at 2007 Visa National Championships.  After sustaining injuries at 2007 National Championships, Kelley retired from elite competition and went on to help Oklahoma place Second at NCAAs in 2010 and Third in 2011, as well as placing Fourth in 2011 before retiring prior to the 2012 season due to a torn Achilles.

2002 Junior Champion- Carly Patterson

In 2002, 14 year old Carly Patterson edged out teammate Hollie Vise by just over five tenths to win her only Junior National Championship.  Patterson started 2003with a big win at the Tyson American Cup and preceded to place second behind Chellsie Memmel at the Pacific Challenge.  Patterson was forced to withdraw from Visa Championships with an elbow injury, but recovered in time to lead Team USA to the first World Team title in United States Gymnastics History, as well as finishing with the Silver Medal in the All Around Final, behind Svetlana Khorkina.  Starting off 2004, Patterson traveled to New York and won her second and final American Cup, which led to a second place at the Pacific Alliance Championships.  At Visa Championships, Patterson shared the top spot with Courtney Kupets, and placed third at Olympic Trials.  Once in Athens, Patterson helped Team USA to a Silver Medal finish, as well as win the Olympic All Around Gold Medal, and a silver on the Balance Beam.  Soon after, Patterson retired from gymnastics.

International Gymnast
2001 Junior Champion- Kristal Uzelac
 After winning the final of her three Junior Championships, Kristal Uzelac appeared to be a rising star to watch.  At the beginning of 2002, Uzelac placed third all around and first on vault at the Pacific Alliance Championships, and seemed to be a contender for the Visa Championships in August. After fracturing a toe during practice, Uzelac had a rough meet day 1, and withdrew from all events but Beam on Day 2.  After retiring from Elite Gymnastics, Uzelac competed for Penn State University from 2004-2005 and won the Big 10 Uneven Bars and Beam Championships before retiring from gymnastics all together. 

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