U.S. team members hail positive Junior Worlds experience
posted on 06/30/2019

By Blythe Lawrence

The U.S. women are heading home happy from Hungary.

Kayla DiCello added a bronze on the balance beam, her third overall medal, as the inaugural Junior World Championships drew to a close Sunday in Gyor, in northwestern Hungary. The 15-year-old from Maryland scored 13.733 for a solid set to land in a tie with China’s Wei Xiaoyuan for second place, but was awarded the bronze based on her slightly lower execution score.

“It got a little bit easier each day,” reported DiCello, who helped the U.S. women capture the team bronze on Friday and bagged gold on vault, the USA’s first ever Junior World title, on Saturday. “I just kept telling myself that I’m going to stay calm and do my routines like I would in practice, try not to think about how big the meet is and everything,” she added. “I felt really good about it overall.”

With teammates Sydney Barros and Konnor McClain yelling encouragement, DiCello and Skye Blakely closed out their competition in the floor final, showing off two upbeat, new-for-2019 routines, earning seventh and fifth places, respectively.

“It is maybe a little bit sassy,” Blakely said of her floor exercise, set to a fast, modern take on Russian folk music. “I went in feeling pretty confident about my floor routine and telling myself I could do it. I had positive thoughts in my head, so I was able to have fun.”

DiCello, whose new floor choreography was finalized only two months ago, said her set was designed to get the crowd involved. “People can clap along to the music and when they listen to it, it might make them want to dance,” she noted. And if people want to gasp at the height of her tumbling, well, that’s okay too.

Russia proved unstoppable on the last day of event finals, taking both gold medals up for grabs in the women’s competition. Elena Gerasimova thrilled for gold on beam, while new Junior World all-around champion Viktoriia Listunova captured her second individual gold on floor.

The Junior World Championships was held for the first time this year to give the best under-16 gymnasts from around the world exposure and big-competition experience. This week’s event in Gyor served as a test run, but if formally adopted by the International Gymnastics Federation, Junior Worlds will be held once every two years, with the next edition planned for 2021.

Barros, Blakely, DiCello and McClain will all have graduated to the senior division by then, but their memories of this first World’s experience will be positive, they said. Though the four had met before at national team camps, Gyor gave them a chance to get to know each other better and bond a bit over shared meals and shared experiences.

“My favorite memory will be all of us out on the floor competing together, supporting each other, cheering each other on as we did our routines,” DiCello said.

“Mine is basically the same as Kayla’s, but after the meet, getting to stand on the podium, getting that third-place medal, looking at the crowd and at the flag,” Barros added. “It was cool to know how much we’d been through together.”