Who Was the Best American Junior of 2022?

During the Winter and Summer of 2022 the big theme for USA Gymnastics this year was the rise of a very talented and extremely well-rounded junior class. But it wasn’t that a small group of juniors dominated the American program, it was the fact that so many American juniors were joining in on the success.

Ella Kate Parker won the All-Around (AA) at the 2022 Winter Cup, Jayla Hang won the AA at the 2022 U.S. Classics, and Madray Johnson took the AA title at the 2022 Junior National Championships. The diversity of success even extended into the team selection trails for the Pan American Championships where Zoey Molomo had the highest AA score on Day #1, but for Day #2 the AA leader was Hezly Rivera.

But then when it came time to actually perform in the Pan American Championships, it was yet another American junior who took first place in the AA (Dulcy Caylor). While the American juniors were winning in Brazil, earlier in the year at Jesolo Tiana Sumanasekera had taken top AA honors in what is typically the most important international meet for American juniors who have future Olympic aspirations.

Ella Kate Parker

In a single year seven different American juniors had a particularly impressive victory in the All-Around. Normally success at the domestic level should be taken with a grain of salt until that same success can be replicated in an international setting, preferably one far away from home soil. But at the Pan American Championships the American juniors won the gold medal in all six events.

But the real eye catcher was Jesolo where American juniors won gold medals on 5 of 6 events, and then backed up that gold medal haul with an additional silver medal in every event as well. The American juniors were particularly dominant at Jesolo but it wasn’t the medals they won, but who they won those medals against.

Four months later at the 2022 Junior European Championships gymnasts who had been present at Jesolo would account for 14 of 15 medals won in the individual events. The lone exception was Anna Lashchevska of Ukraine. At the 2022 Jr. European Championships the AA podium featured Helen Kevric of Germany in first place, Amalia Ghigoarta of Romania in second place, and Viola Pierazzini of Italy in third place.

Tiana Sumanasekera

These were the exact same gymnasts who would have placed on the All-Around podium at Jesolo if the Americans had not competed. The same three gymnasts who won the gold, silver, and bronze at the Jr. European Championships finished 6th, 7th, and 8th at Jesolo earlier in the year. It was a quintet of American gymnasts who finished 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 in the standings.

Because Italy, Romania, and Germany also won team medals at the Jr. European Championships, they produced 15 gymnasts in total who won a medal at the 2022 Jr. European Championships. All but two of those 15 gymnasts were veterans of Jesolo 2022 from earlier in the year. At Jesolo the United States effectively dominated the same field of gymnasts who would go on to win nearly every medal at the Jr. European Championships.

Note: The American juniors who competed at Jesolo were Madray Johnson, Myli Lew, Zoey Molomo, Ella Murphy, Tiana Sumanasekera, and Gabby Van Frayen. At the Pan American Gymnastics Championships the team consisted of Dulcy Caylor, Audrey Snyder, Tiana Sumanasekera, and Alicia Zhou.

The success of American juniors in international competition was a ringing endorsement that the program was on the right tracks and that its junior development program was strong. The 2022 season produced a compelling narrative that the American juniors aren’t dependent on one or two big names, but that the success is relatively equal amongst the entire class with plenty of that success to go around. Strengthening the odds that USA Gymnastics will have more than enough young gymnasts capable of making the transition to high-level senior competition in the coming years.

Jayla Hang

For most programs, even when they have a strong junior team it is often a single gymnast who generates the greatest amount of fanfare. For France it is currently Elena Colas, Germany has Helen Kevric, Romania has Sabrina Voinea, and Russia has Diana Kustova. But for the American program it isn’t about hyping up the accomplishments of a single gymnast and crowning her as “the next big thing.” But rather, a process where a generation of young talent is slowly being curated and only time will tell which specific gymnasts will rise to the top.

In recent years one of the hallmarks of the American program is its tendency to witness success at older age brackets rather than depending on 1st-year seniors to be critical members of the team. At the 2022 World Championships the Americans who won medals in an individual event were Shilese Jones a 5th-year senior, Jordan Chiles a 6th-year senior, and Jade Carey who is technically a 7th year senior. For Jones and Chiles these were the first individual medals of their careers in a top-level gymnastics competition.

How long it will take for the 2007 and 2008 generations to come into their own? The experiences of the 2005 and 2006 generations might provide some insights to that question. Currently it is the 2006 generation who are 1st-year seniors and the gymnasts of this birth year have spent the 2022 season being largely in the shadows of their older teammates. Their contributions to the program being attending national team camps to gain insights from coaches and competing in domestic competitions to gain experience. In other words, for the 2006 generation the 2022 season was a year spent building for the future.

Dulcy Caylor

Members of the 2006 generation include Joscelyn Roberson, Kaliya Lincoln, Charlotte Booth, Katelyn Jong and Kailin Chio. Their lack of success in 2022 is quite understandable and it is the direct byproduct of gymnastics rapidly shifting away from 1st and 2nd year seniors. At the 2022 World Championships 20 of 24 gymnasts in the All-Around were a 3rd-year senior or older (83%).

Of the four gymnasts who were either a 1st or 2nd year senior, they placed 13th, 20th, 22nd, and 24th out of a field of 24 total gymnasts.

As for the 2005 generation, those who competed as 2nd-year seniors in 2022, you have gymnasts such as Skye Blakely, Lexi Zeiss, and Konnor McClain. These gymnasts didn’t obtain center stage at the World Championships in the way Carey, Chiles, and Jones did. But it was hard to deny that there wasn’t significant growth for them in 2022 relative to where they were in 2021. Generating hope that in 2023 their future will be even brighter.

Zoey Molomo

The 2022 American juniors are a fascinating bunch that provokes two interesting questions.

1) What to make of a generation of gymnasts where there isn’t a single dominant gymnast, but a vast collection of talent where so many different gymnasts are reveling in the success?

2) How will this generation come of age over the next few years in an era where it now takes until your 2nd or 3rd year as a senior-eligible gymnast before success can reasonably be expected?

As was the case with the juniors who came before them, only time will tell.

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