There is a moment when everyone realizes that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are just a year away, which sets off a scramble of speculation and anticipation that will culminate only with the Games’ opening ceremony on July 24, 2020. But Friday, the naming of the U.S.’s first ever junior world team allowed a glimpse into the more distant future, at the gymnasts who may be at the eye of the Olympic ring-festooned media storm come 2024.
Skye Blakely, Sydney Barros and Kayla Di Cello will represent the U.S. later this month at the inaugural junior worlds in Gyor, Hungary from June 27-30. Junior worlds is an initiative of International Gymnastics Federation President Morinari Watanabe, who wanted to create a big stage for talented younger performers not age-eligible to compete at the senior world championships or Olympic Games, and by elevating junior competition to a world event, new storylines emerge earlier, elongating or jumpstarting careers, which is likely to raise the profile of gymnastics, and all for the good.
The competition is a full-fledged world championships, meaning there will be team, individual all-around and event finals for both women and men. The team competition is restricted to the 24 countries who sent athletes to last summer’s Youth Olympic Games, though no woman who competed at the Youth Olympics will be able to represent their nation in Gyor; all of them now have turned their eyes to Tokyo.
The U.S. team was named following a selection competition dominated by Blakely, a promising 14-year-old from Texas who posted 14-plus scores on vault, bars, and beam. Of the three U.S. juniors to compete in Hungary, however, only DiCello will be old enough to compete at next summer’s Olympic Games. But when it comes to 2024, each team member -- and the mega-talented traveling alternate, Konnor McClain -- will have a head start.
Blythe Lawrence is a sportswriter from Seattle. Follow her on Twitter @rockergymnastix.