HOUSTON-The 2005 Men’s Junior Olympic National Championships, which feature the nation’s top 12-18 year old gymnasts, got underway today at the George R. Brown Convention Center.
Today’s marathon event-competition began at 8:30 a.m. and didn’t end until 10:00 p.m.-crowned top teams (region and club) and narrowed the field to the top 36 all-around athletes and top 12 on each event in two age groups (14-15 and 16-18).
Leading the way in the top age division is a trio of California athletes: Jason Chu (Hunington Beach, Calif.), Kyson Bunthuwong (El Cerrito, Calif.) and current USA junior champ Bryan Del Castillo (Laguna Niguel, Calif.).
The little-known Chu’s field-topping 56.175 came as a surprise to many, but not the high school junior himself. “I went into this meet thinking I should be number one,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of problems in the past with injury and illness at nationals; now I’m finally healthy. I would think this is kind of a wake-up call to people who didn’t expect much from me.”
Andre Berry was the top local Houston athlete, finishing sixth overall (54.375).
The outstanding Cali athletes carried Region 1 (Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, California) to the team win, almost five points ahead of Region 8 (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee) and Region 5 (Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio).
In the 14-15 age group, last year’s Level 9 champ, Philip Onorato (Plano, Texas), led the way with a 55.5, followed by Ryan Lieberman (Buffalo Grove, Ill.) and Onorato’s teammate, Tim Gentry.
Region 5 led the team competition, less than a point ahead of Region 1. Region 7 (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia) finished third.
In a new addition to J.O. competition, Dallas-based WOGA, home to women’s Olympic champ Carly Patterson, won the first-ever J.O. Level 10 club title over Houston-area powerhouse Cypress and Chicago club Buffalo Grove.
“It feels really, really good,” WOGA head coach Sergei Pakanich said of his squad’s win. “This is awesome for our program. Since the beginning it’s been all about the girls, everyone talking about how good they are-and they are great-but finally the boys are getting some recognition too. I’m overwhelmed we could do this.”
“This is a real success for us,” added Tom Meadows, coach of the second-place Cypress squad. “To be recognized as a team is so important. We strive every day to teach the boys about being part of a team, being more than themselves, and it’s great that the National Championships finally reflect that.”
Competition continues Friday with team and qualification competition for Level 9 athletes. All-around finals will take place Saturday, with event finals (all age groups) on Sunday.
Tickets are available at the George R. Brown Convention Center box office for $10 per day.
For more information visit www.jonationals.com/ or contact event media coordinator Susan Williams at smwweb@cox.net (media inquiries only).