PROVIDENCE – This weekend, the Olympic dream – and the Road to Rio – goes through Rhode Island, as eight USA Gymnastics athletes will punch their tickets to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The Dunkin’ Donuts Center plays host to the 2016 USA Gymnastics Championships, with competitors taking the stage in rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline & tumbling and acrobatic gymnastics.
“I’m really excited,” said trampolinist Charlotte Drury, who leads in the points count among U.S. women for a coveted Rio spot. “I walked out onto the floor here today, and it’s all become very real. It’s culminated in this experience and I’m really excited for that and the opportunity that it presents.”
Drury helped secure the U.S. women their trampoline spot in Rio at a test event at Olympic Arena in April. The U.S. men have one Olympic spot in trampoline, as well, in addition to one rhythmic spot and one rhythmic group, which includes five athletes.
“I have a lot of nerves, but they are good nerves,” said Laura Zeng, the reigning U.S. rhythmic champion, who finished eighth at the World Championships last year. “I’m ready for the weekend, ready to compete. This is what we’ve been working towards for the year. I’m feeling pretty pumped.”
Zeng, 16, is favored among the U.S. women in rhythmic, where Team USA has qualified both individual and group spots for the first time in history.
“I think the U.S. has continued to grow its presence on the international scale,” said 2004 Olympian Mary Sanders, who was 15th in Athens.
Others eyeing that spot that Zeng leads the chase for? Serena Lu, Evita Griskenas, Camilla Feeley and Aliya Protto.
Five out of the six members of the U.S. senior group who placed 13th at the World Championships last year will make their way to Rio. The group trains at North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics Center outside Chicago.
Trampoline – Men
Logan Dooley was Olympic alternate for the U.S. in both 2008 and 2012, and the 28-year-old would like to make this year the one that he finally realizes an Olympic dream.
Like Drury, he leads the U.S. men in points from Olympic qualifier events so far this season.
“Leading the points going into this competition is a big confidence booster, but I’m not the chosen one yet,” said Dooley. “I still have a lot of work to do. I want to go out there and prove what I can do. At the end of the day, we will see how it works out.”
Dooley and Jeffrey Gluckstein helped the U.S. earn its trampoline spot at the Olympic test event in Rio in April. Also in the running for that coveted spot: 2015 U.S. champion and 2012 Olympian Steven Gluckstein (Jeffrey’s brother) and Aliaksei Shostak.
Trampoline – Women
Drury, who trains alongside Dooley in California, knows she will have to be at her best in Providence to secure her spot. Foes include reigning U.S. champion Clare Johnson, as well as 2014 Youth Olympian Nicole Ahsinger and Shaylee Dunavin.
“We have a lot more depth and talent in both men and women,” said Jennifer Parilla, the American who represented Team USA at the first Olympics to hold trampoline, the 2000 Games.
A host of disciplines will compete in Providence this weekend that do not have Olympic qualifying spots, including acrobatics.
Tiffani Williams and Axel Osborne are the reigning mixed pairs acro champions and are fresh off a silver medal finish at the 2016 World Championships in April.
“We want to perform well here and give them a good show,” Osborne said. “We want to show the American crowd what we can do. Hopefully we will win the national title again.”
Jessica Renteria and Maren Merwarth of San Antonio are the women’s pair defending champions in acro, as well as 2016 World Championships finalists.
Londrea Garrett, Josephina Kievsky and Emilia Segel of Columbia, Md., won the U.S. women’s group event in acro at the 2015 USA Gymnastics Championships.
In trampoline and tumbling, six-time, defending women’s tumbling champion Yuliya Brown seeks her seventh title, while reigning men’s tumbling champion Garrett Wheeler returns to defend his title.
Competition begins in full on Friday with coverage available on the USA Gymnastics YouTube channel.
Drury put it how many athletes feel in Providence about the weekend: “I just want to push myself to do what I know how to do, trust my training, and go out there and do it.”