GAGE coaches Al Fong and Armine Barutyan will barely have time unpacking their bags from their trip to St. Louis for the United States Olympic Trials this past weekend before they get ready to head to Japan for the big show — the Olympic Games.
Kara Eaker, a recent graduate of Grain Valley High School, and Leann Wong, who lives in Overland Park, Kansas, who train at the Great American Gymnastics Express gym in Blue Springs, were named alternates for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team that will compete in Tokyo.
“We went to St. Louis hoping that Leanne and Kara would make the team,” Fong said late Monday night, “and while that did not happen, we are thrilled that they are going to get to go to Tokyo as alternates.
“And we have had experiences in the past where alternates played a big role in the outcome of the competition.”
One such year was 2003, when Olympian Terin Humphrey, who in 2004 won an individual silver and team silver in Athens, helped the U.S. team win its first world championship.
Humphrey, who trained at GAGE, was an alternate, along with Chellsie Memmel, to the world championship team that competed in Anaheim, California, that year.
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At the last minute, Humphrey and Memmel were put on the team due to injuries by Annia Hatch and Courtney Kupets and a severe case of the flu suffered by Ashley Postell. Humphrey and Memmel starred for the U.S. team, which brought home the gold.
“Terin played such a big role in that world championship,” Fong said. “It’s like I was saying, alternates can be key players in world championships or the Olympics.”
While they did not make the four-person team — the selection committee went with the top four in the all-around, including reigning Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum (MyKayla Skinner and Jade Carey will also compete individually) — Fong said Eaker and Wong enjoyed their moment in the spotlight.
“I thought it was wonderful that the alternates were able to come out on stage in their Olympic outfits,” Fong said, “to celebrate with the young ladies who made the team. It was certainly a special moment for Armine and me.”
Eaker finished seventh in the all-around with a score of 111.097 after the final round Sunday. Wong was eighth at 110.532.
Wong had her best scores on the vault (14.700) and floor (14.233). She was disappointed with an 11.500 score on the balance beam Friday but bounced back with a 14.000 score Sunday.
Eaker had the second-best performance on the balance beam Sunday. She scored 14.566, which was topped only by Lee (14.733)
Fong is hoping the best is yet to come for Eaker and Wong.
“We will have Leanne and Kara ready to compete in Tokyo if they are called on,” Fong said. “You certainly don’t want to see anything happen to one of the ladies on the team — like an injury or being quarantined (due to COVID-19) — but if that should happen, Leanne and Kara will be ready, I promise you that.”
More:GAGE gymnasts Kara Eaker, Leanne Wong named alternates for U.S. Olympic team