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Tiana Sumanasekera – Tampa’s Top Contender? 

By Ashlee Buhler 

This time last year, Tiana Sumanasekera was just about as far away as one could get from winning a U.S. junior national title. 10th in the All-Around at the U.S. Classic, she missed the cutoff to qualify to the U.S. Championships by almost a point; so while the top juniors in the country competed for national titles in Fort Worth, Sumanasekera watched from home. 

Over 365 days later, the situation looks much different. Now with 13 gold medals across four international assignments since November 2021, Sumanasekera is one of the top junior gymnasts in the country and a favorite to take home multiple titles in Tampa. 

Her gymnastics, which is powerful yet elegant, has impressed gymnastics fans around the globe, and sets a high standard for junior gymnasts around the country. With her recent success at the Pan American Championships (where she brought home a silver in the All-Around and four golds – team, vault, beam and floor), Sumanasekera is primed for a strong showing in Tampa to conclude her short but sweet junior career. Next year, it’s off to the big leagues – and we can’t wait to see what’s in store! 

Inside Gymnastics caught up with Tiana Sumanasekera before the U.S. Championships to talk about her recent international success and future goals in the sport!

I always find it interesting to hear how gymnasts got started in the sport! What’s your story?
I stumbled into gymnastics by accident! When I was six years-old, I was at a birthday party and there were a bunch of trampolines. Being the super energetic kid I was, I immediately started jumping and flipping all over the place. An instructor noticed me and asked how long I had been doing gymnastics. I said, “what is gymnastics?!” The instructor was taken by surprise and wanted to talk to my mom. She encouraged my mom to enroll me in gymnastics. Afterwards, my mom enrolled me into a recreational gymnastics class. That’s how my gymnastics journey began! 

Was there a particular gymnast you looked up to when you were growing up?
Growing up, I really loved watching Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, and Simone Biles. I loved their style of gymnastics and really looked up to them and their gymnastics.

At what point did becoming an Elite gymnast come into the conversation for you? Was that always your goal or was it a natural progression?
Becoming an Elite gymnast was not something that I had initially even thought about. Since I was doing very well in the J.O. program (I won the Northern California state championship five times in a row), my mom inquired about the Hopes program after I finished my level 8 season. I was 10 years-old at the time! I ended up qualifying for the Hopes Championships my first year. I did Hopes for two more years and after that did my first year of Elite in 2021! 

You missed qualifying to the U.S. Championships last year but have gained a lot of experience since then. What is your mindset as you prepare for your first U.S. Championships? Are you nervous or more excited?
I am extremely excited to compete at my first U.S. Championships this year!  I was very sad to have not made it to the Championships last year but I was very new to the Elite field, and I gained a lot of experience (since then) which helped me improve this year.

What are some of the biggest differences from this time last year, either personally or within your gymnastics, that you think have helped you to be so successful internationally? 

I feel like I’ve come a long way since last year. I take every competition as a learning experience. For example, at my first international competition in Colombia, I remember I was very nervous before my beam routine because I wanted to make my routine so badly. The nerves got me too excited, and I rushed my series and fell. I took it as a learning experience and went back to the gym and worked hard to control my nerves. Likewise, in every competition there is something new to learn from, and you gradually improve. Something that has held me back is my bars because it doesn’t come as naturally to me as the other events, but I’m working extremely hard to improve them. I’m also very thankful for my coaches who have helped me tremendously throughout my journey! 

You’ve now been on international assignments to Colombia, Germany, Italy and Brazil! Can you share a memory from one of those trips that stands out to you?
A memory that I will always cherish is in Colombia, where I won my first individual gold medal at my first international competition! I can never forget the feeling of hearing the USA national anthem being played after my 1st place finish. I was overwhelmed with joy! I am extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to represent the USA at multiple international competitions.

You are the first American gymnast of Sri Lankan descent to represent the U.S. in international competition. What does that mean to you?
I am very proud of my Sri Lankan heritage and very honored to be the first gymnast of Sri Lankan descent to represent the USA in an International competition! I was super excited to choreograph my floor routine incorporating dance from my Sri Lankan culture. I wanted to make my floor routine unique to me! 

There have been a lot of changes for USA Gymnastics over the last few years and just last month a new leadership team was announced. Have you had a chance to work with Alicia or Chellsie yet? If so, what are your thoughts?
I’m very excited and looking forward to working with and getting feedback from both Alicia and Chellsie.

You have accomplished a lot this year but are not done yet! When all is said and done — what would you have to accomplish in order to feel this season was a success?
I am very happy with how my season has gone so far with having gained a lot of international experience. I hope to keep improving my routines and hitting them for the rest of the season!

What are your long term goals in the sport?
My goal is to make the Senior National Team and gain more international experience as a senior. After Senior Elite, I’m eagerly waiting to begin my college gymnastics career. I love the fun atmosphere of college gymnastics and I’m super excited to be part of it!

You are gaining a lot of new fans in the gymnastics world, what’s something fun or interesting that people might not know about you? 
Something people may not know about me is that I am a huge fashionista! I grew up loving fashion because of my mom. She has always had the best taste in style, so I naturally fell in love with fashion! I love anything and everything about fashion from clothing to make-up, shoes, handbags and all glitz and glamor! It would be a dream come true for me to be a part of the fashion industry someday!

Photos by Lloyd Smith for Inside Gymnastics

For more:

TCT’s Levi Jung-Ruivivar Ready to Shine

Skye Blakely Ready to Soar

U.S. Junior Champ Katelyn Jong Ready For The Jump To The Senior Ranks 

Rising Star Nola Matthews Readies For The Road Ahead 

Joscelyn Roberson – A Star On The Rise 

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