In his first year competing in the senior division, three-time U.S. Men’s National Team member Asher Hong has started to make waves in the top echelon of his sport. Sharing the floor with Olympians and World medalists, Hong is adjusting well to the challenges and opportunities afforded by his new competitive environment.
"I remember as a junior I was always pretty on top, and I wasn’t expecting that going into the big leagues [as a] senior," he admitted.
After a standout performance at the 2022 Winter Cup in Frisco, Texas, this February – where Hong was crowned the vault champion and medaled on floor exercise, parallel bars, still rings and in the all-around – he was relieved to find his footing among the top U.S. men.
"I was hoping that Winter Cup would be a success and it was, thank goodness!" Hong laughed.
A few weeks later, he continued to find success at the DTB Pokal Cup in Stuttgart, Germany, where he achieved gold-medal status on still rings and earned silver on floor. Hong was also integral in helping the U.S. men clinch the team title.
His confidence in his skill and training is clear, but Hong is always aware of the athletes around him and how they’re performing. Though he wasn’t in attendance at last month’s U.S. Classic, Hong followed the competition from his home in Tomball, Texas. He was impressed by what he saw.
"I saw a lot of the guys put up high [start values] and some guys that I didn’t expect," he said. "I hadn’t watched Donnell [Whittenburg] in a while, but it’s great to see him back in the game."
Whittenburg, a program veteran and World bronze medalist on vault, made one of the biggest splashes at U.S. Classic, posting the highest score on still rings and vault along with being runner-up on floor exercise and third in the all-around. He was joined in Utah by some of the top American male gymnasts, including Hong’s future Stanford teammates, Brody Malone and Colt Walker, who took the first and second all-around spots, respectively, each earning apparatus titles along the way.
With multiple Olympians and World medalists, in addition to hungry up and comers like himself, eyeing spots on the U.S. Olympic team in 2024, Hong knows that he will have to bring his A-game every time he steps onto the competition floor. Next week’s OOFOS U.S. Gymnastics Championships are yet another opportunity to prove himself.
"It’s going to be a tough competition, but we’re all in it together, and we’re all pushing each other to try and get the best results for [the Paris Olympic Games in] 2024," he said.
While every elite athlete strives to win, support between competitors is a core piece of the brotherhood and respect that permeates throughout men’s gymnastics.
© John Cheng
"It’s a pretty small community, especially in [the] USA. There’s no animosity. We’re all pretty close and always want the best for each other," Hong said.
He knows that same camaraderie will be there when he arrives on Stanford University’s campus this fall. So will the motivation that comes with joining a team like Stanford, which boasts numerous National Team members as well as the last three NCAA team titles. Hong is looking forward to being welcomed into the fold while being surrounded by teammates who will continue to push him in and out of the gym.
"I feel like the whole team [holds] each other accountable for a lot of the gym aspects and I’m sure school aspects. [I think] all the guys on the team will help me on my journey to graduate and achieve that 2024 goal," he said.
With college life swiftly approaching and the Olympic Games in Paris on the horizon, Hong is locked in and aware that he must first focus on the events leading up to 2024.
"Performing well at [the OOFOS U.S. Gymnastics Championships], showing that I am capable of taking a spot on the World Team, that’ll be the first step," he said. "Then hitting as many international competitions along the way before 2024 [and] just getting more experience."
His approach to each competition is simple and straight-forward.
"Hit six for six," Hong stated. "Because the guy who’s going to be on top is the guy who hits six for six."
Hong is a constant student of the sport and enjoys watching his role models to prepare and stay motivated for upcoming competitions. Like many young gymnasts, he reveres men’s gymnastics legend Uchimura KÅhei, who has nearly 30 combined Olympic and World medals.
"I remember watching [Uchimura’s] routines in 2012 and 2016 just in awe. I feel like he’s had the most impact on where I want to be in the next few years," Hong shared.
He also admires the routines he saw last summer from Olympic champions Hashimoto Daiki and Nikita Nagornyy. He recently watched both gymnasts compete at their respective national championships, comparing his own routines to what he saw on the screen.
"I’m trying my best to keep up and see where I am in the world scope."
With a National Team spot on the line next week in Tampa, Fla., and the World Championships team selection camp slated for October, Hong is taking things one step at a time but is always working toward the end goal.
"If I want to be top tier, I’ve still got a lot more work to do."
Fans can watch Hong compete against the country’s most elite gymnasts at the OOFOS U.S. Gymnastics Championships August 18 and 20 at Tampa’s Amalie Arena. The first session of senior men’s competition can be viewed live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA August 18 at 7 p.m. ET. CNBC will broadcast the second session live August 20 at 7 p.m. ET. Day 2 will also air on tape delay on NBC August 21 at 12:30 p.m. ET.