Team USA: Taking Pride in Winning Silver

In the aftermath of the 2022 Pan American Gymnastics Championships I spent most of my time covering this event from Brazil’s perspective. Now I want to cover this competition from the American perspective before U.S. Classics gets underway. The 2022 Pan American lineup genuinely deserves praise for what they accomplished. The United States sent a young team and while a silver medal is not as prestigious as a gold medal, this team has a lot to be proud of.

The five members of the American lineup Skye Blakely, Kayla DiCello, Zoe Miller, Elle Mueller, and Lexi Zeiss had little experience in high level senior competition before arriving at Rio-2022. Kayla DiCello was the only member of the team who had ever competed in a senior level World Championships or Olympics beforehand. But for DiCello, the sum total of her experience was one appearance that came only nine months prior at the 2021 World Championships.

Meanwhile the gold medal winning Brazilians had three Olympians in their lineup. Then there was the bronze medal winning Canadians who had three Olympians in their lineup as well. Not only did the two programs combine for six Olympians, but 5 of the 6 returning Olympic veterans in the Canadian and Brazilian lineups were veterans of the 2016 Olympics.

This meant that not only was an inexperienced American team competing against Olympians which would be challenging under any circumstance, but these were primarily Olympians who had been strong competitors for a minimum of two Olympic quads. Furthermore, the 2022 Pan American Gymnastics Championships was being held in of all places, the exact same city that hosted the 2016 Olympics. For the American team, they were competing against Olympians who had been competing at a high level for far longer, but also had greater familiarity with the host city.

Even if Team USA was competing in a neutral location, this still would have been a tough competition. The 2022 Pan American Gymnastics Championships was being held in Brazil with the Brazilians having homefield advantage. But more importantly, Brazil entered this competition as a juggernaut. Brazil entered the competition fresh of Rebeca Andrade’s success at both the 2021 Olympics and the 2021 World Championships.

In 2022 Brazilian gymnastics was hosting a major competition after having just recorded its greatest year ever in 2021. Brazil entered the 2022 Pan American gymnastics Championships with the mindset that this was one of the biggest “must win” events in program history. Brazil wanted to build on their momentum from the year prior and this competition was the perfect opportunity to host an event where the focus was a celebration of all Brazil had accomplished in recent years.

Many of the legends of Brazil’s storied past were in attendance to cheer on the current generation of Brazilian gymnasts. Among them were Lais Souza who is one of the most inspiring sports figures in Brazil’s entire Olympic history for overcoming quadriplegia. Knowing Lais was personally watching certainly gave Brazilian gymnasts that extra motivation they needed and added to the atmosphere of the 2022 Pan American Gymnastics Championships being their big moment.

When Brazilian gymnasts competed, you could see how important winning this competition was to them in the effort they gave during their routines. When Brazilian gymnasts interacted with the crowd, you could see how meaningful winning the gold medal was for the Brazilian athletes who wanted to do their fans proud. And in the answers Brazilian gymnasts gave to the media in their post-competition interviews, you could see how historical they felt this competition was.

Rebeca Andrade said it best when asserting that their 2022 gold medal was Brazil’s way of honoring all the pioneers of the past who built this program up, and producing a win that would keep the program strong to empower the next generation of Brazilian gymnasts. Brazil approached this competition as if it were an Olympic moment in its program history.

That’s what the American lineup had to compete against and this team was facing an uphill battle on numerous fronts. That is on top of many of these younger gymnasts making the pivot from junior to senior in the era of Covid-19 lockdowns. Where so many competitions were either outright canceled, or held without spectators. Hindering their ability to get accustomed to larger crowds and more intense environments as their careers grew.

And on top of all of that, USA Gymnastics started the year with a five-month vacancy in its top coaching position. Not formally filling the role until two months before the 2022 Pan American Gymnastics Championships started. It was yet another example of American gymnasts being subjected to uncertainty regarding their future and held in limbo as a result of USA Gymnastics’ decision making.

Gymnastics fans by and large were overwhelmingly thrilled with the performance of Team USA at the 2022 Pan American Gymnastics Championships. Lexi Zeiss emerged as a breakout star and was the most valuable contributor for the United States despite being the least experienced member of the lineup. In a chaotic beam rotation where the Americans fell in warmups, and then 3 of 4 Americans fell during Team Finals, Lexi remained calm and collected.

Zeiss ended up being solid as a rock under pressure despite her status as the athlete who (in theory) should have been the first to crack under pressure due to her previous lack of experience. The gutsy performance in such circumstances is the type of behavior reminiscent of a future star in the making.

There was also Kayla DiCello who is proving herself to be one of the most valuable workhorses of the American program. With so many assignments in the past year, DiCello has risen to become a vital part of the American program. Kayla’s reputation for constantly being able to deliver was showcased once more when she was the lone member of the senior lineup to win a gold medal in an individual event.

Skye Blakely continued what has been an interesting career. She had strong results as a 1st-year senior in 2021 and has clearly carried her momentum into 2022. Zoe Miller and Elle Mueller both hail from iconic clubs and each justified their status as gymnasts who should be watched closely in future competitions. In both cases each of them had been part of the 2022 Jesolo Team USA lineup and they now have a second international competition under their belt.

Then there was the junior lineup who absolutely dominated the competition. Dulcy Caylor won the All-Around. Tiana Sumanasekera won gold medals on 3 of 4 apparatuses. Alicia Zhou won a medal on bars which completed the sweep of Team USA winning all six of the available gold medals. Rounding out the rest of the team was Audrey Snyder who was originally an alternate. But Audrey stepped up to the plate when called upon and her personal score in the team competition was the fifth highest amongst all competitors.

Any criticisms regarding where Team USA finished in the standings is missing the context of just how much of an uphill battle the 2022 Pan American Gymnastics Championships was for this team. And how much the seniors proved themselves in spite of those circumstances. But even then, those criticisms don’t belong in the ears of the gymnasts who performed admirably but the leadership of USA Gymnastics who made such a colossal mismatch possible.

Gymnastics fans have voiced their opinions on this matter, but I wanted to say it one more time before all the attention is passed along to the gymnasts who excel at 2022 U.S. Classics. But the gymnasts of the 2022 Pan American team have a lot to be proud of for how they competed. They overcame adverse circumstances and gained valuable experience that will set them up for success in future competitions. They repeated the same lesson that was learned in Tokyo-2021.

You don’t need a gold medal to make your country proud.

2 thoughts on “Team USA: Taking Pride in Winning Silver

  1. Brazil won…USA was second… no excuses… and there is not a top Coaching position in the USA…the girls are coached by their personal coaches, not some USA team coach who sees them a few times a year like the ridiculous Karolyi era… where it was rule by control and intimidation… anyone that thinks Marta coached anyone is delusional !

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