“My biggest goal is to make my Olympic dream come true, even if it is in the summer of 202ONE.” Leanne Wong
Inside Gymnastics spoke with 2018 U.S. Junior All-around Champion, 2019 American Cup Champion, two-time Pan American medalist and 2019 U.S. beam bronze medalist Leanne Wong about her busy 2019 season and how she is looking forward to Tokyo 2021.
By Christy Sandmaier
2019 U.S. Championships and American Cup Photos by Lloyd Smith
2018 U.S. Championships Photos by Grace Chiu
Photo of Pan Am Pin Collection courtesy of Leanne Wong
In what she called an “unforgettable” experience, Wong’s trip to Lima, Peru for Pan Ams, where she brought home gold with Team USA and silver on bars (plus an incredible collection of pins) offered a great taste of what could be for her in Tokyo 2020. It was a time to bond with her teammates and coaches, and prepare for the pressure of a huge international stage. Wong thoroughly embraced the experience, soaking in every minute.
Now, “what could be” is postponed a year, but that hasn’t deterred Wong at all from her goals. In fact, she’s more determined than ever to accomplish her dreams in 2021, which of course still include competing for her country in the Olympic Games.
Wong, who was the non-traveling alternate for Worlds in Stuttgart, continually strives for perfection, not just on the competition floor but in life, telling us, “I am a perfectionist in all aspects of life.” And while she may appear stoic at times, there are also moments when she shares pure joy in her performance, allowing her personality to shine through.
With her sights set on 2021, a stellar set of picture-perfect skills, total command of her routines and the 3Cs, Wong is prepared for the challenges ahead and motivated to make the new road to Tokyo her most successful season yet.
What was your initial response and reaction to the news the Tokyo Games were being postponed? Where were you when you found out?
As the coronavirus began to spread globally, I was prepared for the possibility of the 2020 Tokyo Games getting postponed. I had heard about all different sporting events getting cancelled on the news and social media, so I knew the postponement was likely to happen. I don’t remember exactly what I was doing when the Tokyo Games postponement was officially announced. My gym was partially closed at that time in the wake of the COVID-19. All recreational activities and gymnasts in the JO program below level 10 were cancelled. We only had a small group of gymnasts training until the lockdown – the same day the Olympics postponement was announced. Being an Olympic hopeful, I vividly remembered that day because the next day Kara [Eaker] and I were bombarded by all local television stations and newspapers in Kansas City about the postponement. They asked about our thoughts on the postponement. It didn’t come as a big surprise to me as I was already prepared for the possibility.
Has anything changed for you after the announcement? What are your current goals?
My goals haven’t changed even after the postponement. My biggest goal is to make my Olympic dream come true, even if it is in the summer of 202ONE.
Up until then, my goal at the start of 2020 was to be competition ready and prepared for upcoming competitions at the National training camp. There were assignments that I wished to compete for the USA such as the Gymnix in Canada, Jesolo Trophy in Italy, and Pac Rims in New Zealand where I was hoping to gain a little more international experience.
In March, I was named as one of the athletes to compete at the Jesolo meet in Italy. Shortly after that, the competition was sadly canceled in addition to many other JO competitions due to the coronavirus crisis.
Are there upgrades you were working on, or do you have new goals for new skills now?
Upgrading my routines and learning new skills is always fun. When I finally master a skill, it is always exciting and rewarding! My favorite skill to do on all the events is twisting. My dream skill would be to compete a quad twist. I will use the extra training time to perfect and gain more skills.
What are your thoughts on the recent news that gymnasts born in 2005 are now age-eligible to try for Olympic spots?
The competition is already incredible for the four team spots and potentially two additional spots for the U.S. Tokyo Olympic gymnastics team. The competition is and will always be challenging and extremely competitive since we have a long list of talented athletes in the sport. I can see both sides whether or not to include gymnasts who were born in 2005 to qualify for the 2021 Tokyo Games. It can be viewed as unfair for this quadrennium since only four gymnasts are allowed on the team. On the other hand, if those gymnasts are competitive and ready to be on the same stage as the seniors born beyond 2004, it would be unfair to exclude them. This motivates me to work even harder to be on the Tokyo Olympic Team.
Jumping back, talk a little about your 2019 season. What were the best parts and maybe some of the challenges you faced?
The 2019 season was full of amazing experiences and challenges for me. Winning my senior debut at the American Cup in Greensboro, North Carolina was a big highlight of my career! I was proud to have had an incredible meet with two new floor passes: Arabian pike and 3 1/2 twist. I was grateful to have experienced my first World Cup event in the United States. Later in the year, I made the Pan American team.
I had an unforgettable experience at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima. I was fortunately able to compete with two of my teammates, Kara and Aleah [Finnegan]. They both are hardworking, supportive, and caring. Having three GAGE gymnasts on the same team made it feel like we were at “home” and was a dream come true for my coaches!
The Pan American Games was a very different experience since it was considered a “mini” Olympics. We stayed at the Athlete Village where we ran into many other athletes from different sports and countries in North and South America. All of us, including Morgan [Hurd] and Riley [McCusker], enjoyed getting to meet other elite athletes from basketball, rugby, figure roller skating, synchronized swimmers, etc. I also enjoyed exchanging pins with all of the athletes. I collected over 70 pins!
I also learned a lot from training at Pan Ams. This was my first team competition where I learned how a team competition worked, including the podium training, qualifications, team competition, and event finals. I was fortunate to make uneven bars finals and won a silver medal.
How did you feel about moving National Team camps to the new facility in Indianapolis? Do you feel USA Gymnastics and their staff is listening more to the athletes and their needs, than maybe they had before?
I feel that the new team at USA Gymnastics has been doing well by listening, trying and working hard to provide the needs of the athletes. The workout facility in Indianapolis is a very nice gym, which is full of new and great equipment.
Who are some of your role models in the sport?
Since I have been able to train next to Simone Biles at National Team training camps in recent years, she has been an inspiration and motivated me to work harder. Simone has incredible difficulty and works very hard, which enables her to make her skills look effortless. Getting to know and train side-by-side with so many great gymnasts has been an invaluable experience for me.
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