Luisa Blanco is the latest example of a gymnast with no limits — Other gym news — Thoughts from Tiana Sumanasekera

The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, June 10, 2023

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Luisa Blanco will compete for Colombia over the next year while finishing her career at Alabama simultaneously, she told Inside Gymnastics. 

This is an exciting addition to my list of NCAA gymnasts from last week’s column who are taking college gym worldwide over the summer. Though I am a bit perplexed why Blanco did not compete in the Pan American Championships last month (and similarly perplexed as to why the interviewer did not ask why she’s just beginning this path now), because that would likely have been her smoothest path to world and Olympic qualification. If, of course, that’s her end goal; she hints that it is. 

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What I did not mention last week, where I primarily talked about how cool it is to see college gymnasts competing internationally, is how amazing that they are able to do both, and how impossible this path would have seemed even a decade ago. 

Blanco competed elite for the U.S. before she went to Alabama. But both her parents are Colombian, and she told Inside Gymnastics that she had wanted to explore competing for Colombia but was “discouraged.” Blanco did not say discouraged by whom, but… waves hand in the general direction of USA Gymnastics.

Even just five years ago, we heard the story of Florida’s Trinity Thomas, who was attempting to compete elite and NCAA simultaneously, driving overnight to a national team camp after a college meet because she was told she absolutely could not miss camp. Thomas eventually decided to leave elite behind to focus on college; now she holds a third of the all-time 10 record. MyKayla Skinner, a superstar for Utah after becoming an Olympic alternate in 2016, left the Utes to pursue the Tokyo Games. She went home with a silver medal, but never returned to NCAA competition. It really seemed that a gymnast had to choose one path or the other, and once you opened one door, the other closed. 

A mere three years after Tokyo, we are looking at the possibility of an American team in Paris comprised entirely of collegiate gymnasts. To say nothing of the NCAA gymnasts who are trying to make other national teams, or who will compete internationally as individuals! 

Four of the six members of the Tokyo squad went on to compete NCAA after the Olympics, and three of those four — Jordan Chiles, Jade Carey and Suni Lee — have announced that they will try for Paris. Lee likely won’t return to Auburn, but Chiles said she plans to return to UCLA after deferring for a year, and Carey said last week that she will compete for Oregon State and train elite at the same time. Tokyo Olympic alternate Kayla DiCello will defer Florida for a year to train for Paris, and her Gator teammate and fellow former alternate Leanne Wong is also expected to make a run for Paris (though Wong has yet to announce whether she will defer or continue competing NCAA while doing so).

Reportedly, college gymnasts no longer must appear at national team camps during college competition season, and they no longer have to make a decision to forfeit money earned on their name, image and likeness while in the NCAA. Somewhere along the line, someone decided to start treating college-aged gymnasts like the adults they are, and it’s working. They are getting the chance to get educated, figure out who they are both within and beyond the sport, to earn money and market themselves and then to remain competitive at the very top levels of the sport without savaging their bodies too young or losing opportunities to enrich their minds. 

Blanco will spend the summer training in Minnesota with Jeff Graba, alongside Suni Lee, and told Inside Gymnastics that she wants to compete in the Colombian national championships before pursuing the Pan American Games in the fall. She may also go the World Cup apparatus route to qualify for the Olympics as an individual, she said. 

One thing that struck me in a recent Blanco interview was that she asked herself, “Am I only a college gymnast?” and then chose to explore her limits. 

Imagine the possibilities. 

Other gym news

College Gym News teased its first three five-star recruits for the upcoming season: Azaraya Ra-Akbar, Tiana Sumanasekera and Aurélie Tran. 

CGN also previewed some cool skills by gymnasts in the classes of 2024 and 2025. 

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Shilese Jones, Jordan Chiles and Konnor McClain were in Paris for NBC’s Save the Date Olympic countdown event. 

Clemson’s inaugural roster is complete with the additions of Sierra Church and Kaitlin DeGuzman. 

Minnesota signed Canadian Olympian Ava Stewart. 

LSU signed Brooke Simpson and Leah Miller. 

Worlds qualifier for Haiti (and, oh yeah, Denver alumna!) Lynnzee Brown is a finalist for the Honda Inspiration Award, presented annually to “a female athlete who has experienced serious physical and/or emotional adversity, injury and/or illness, or experienced extraordinary personal sacrifice during her collegiate career and returned to competition at the collegiate level.” Was ever anyone so deserving? 

Melissa Genovese will be the head gymnastics coach at Sac State.

GymCastic tweeted this clip of “Alicia Sacramone Quinn’s husband” (aka ball sport guy Brady Quinn) breaking the news on CBS’s Pick Six Podcast that Simone Biles intends to return to competition. 

Five at the IX: Tiana Sumanasekera

Photo credit: USA Gymnastics

Tiana Sumanasekera, 15 (she’ll be 16 in September and made her senior debut this year), is officially One to Watch in the Olympic runup following her performance at the Pan Am Championships in Medellín, Colombia last month. She had media availability Thursday. 

USA Gymnastics posted some highlights on Instagram. 

Gymnastics Now tweeted a couple of Sumanasekera’s comments about training with Simone Biles and the rest of the WCC gang. 

Emily Giambalvo of the Washington Post also tweeted about Sumanasekera’s bars glow-up. 

And the All Things Gymnastics podcast, which will feature Sumanasekera next week, posted a video of her newest upgrade: A double-double! 

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Written by Lela Moore