Months of hard work and dedication paid off for four young gymnasts.
Athena Jones, Sage Marie Coe, Irie Silva and Sydney Jackson were selected out of thousands of girls across the country to compete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Huntsville, Texas, in early October as part of the TOPs Program.
Talent Opportunity Program is a talent scouting initiative of USA Gymnastics, which identifies girls from ages 7-10 for further training up to the elite level.
“It’s like ‘America’s Got Talent,” but for gymnastics,” said Katelyn Verduzco, who coaches the girls at V-Force Elite Gymnastics in Madera.
USA Gymnastics Junior Olympics program consists of 10 levels, with each subsequent level requiring more skills. After completing level 10, gymnasts are at the elite level, which allows them to compete in international competitions, including the Olympics.
Sage Marie and Sydney began training for TOPs testing roughly six months ago; Irie and Athena began training over a year ago.
“They put in extra hours of training for their strength, flexibility and skills,” Verduzco said. “The skills that they were working on for TOPs are probably one to two levels higher than what they are currently competing.”
TOPs testing at the state level began in June and July after which the girls learned they qualified to test at the national level.
For the national level, the top 100 girls were chosen from the three age groups: 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds.
While at national testing, girls did two routines in each of the four categories of women’s artistic gymnastics: floor exercises, vault, uneven bars and balance beam. National testing was held on Oct. 2, 3 and 4.
The girls didn’t make the national teams, (the results were announced Oct. 16), but they will continue to train and hope to return for national testing in the future.
Athena, a 10-year-old Garfield Elementary student, began training when she was about 4 years old.
“Her dad kept saying she had the perfect build for gymnastics,” Nina said. “We started it and she just fell in love with it.”
Sage Marie, an 8-year-old attending Woods Elementary, started training as a gymnast when she was 3.
Sage Marie’s father, Ryan Coe, quickly noticed how much his daughter loved the sport.
“When we pulled Sage out of gymnastics for a year to do dance instead, she turned our entire house into a gym,” Ryan said.
In early October, the Coe family flew to Austin and then drove an hour to Huntsville, Texas.
“You end up in this kind of back road, dirt road to nowhere,” said Ryan of Karolyi Ranch, which was designated as the Olympic Training Center for the U.S. team. “And then, all of a sudden, you have his giant gymnastics ranch with several buildings, Olympic banners flying all around the gym.”
Irie Silva, a 9-year-old at Daily Elementary Charter School in Fresno, began training at V-Force Elite gym when she was 7.
“When we initially joined two years ago, it was only a six-hour commitment,” said Jenn Silva, Irie’s mother. “At that point, six hours was like mind boggling to me — I didn’t know how we were going to fit in a six-hour commitment each week.”
Over the next two years, Jenn saw how much work Irie put into training.
“She started a couple years ago as a level two and progressed really quickly and is now training for level seven,” Jenn said. “She worked hard and asked to add more days and just keep going — she’s so passionate about it.”
Presently, Irie trains over 20 hours each week.
Sydney, an 8-year-old Mountain View Elementary student, and started training at V-Force Elite two years ago.
“It was really great to go to Texas because I got to train where the Olympians train and I got see the big gym,” Sydney said.
Verduzco is delighted with how far the young gymnasts have gone.
“The girls have worked extremely hard and we are really proud of them, and their success,” Verduzco said. “We look forward to continuing on this same journey that we took this last year and keep progressing.”