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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Winter Cup: Kayla DiCello wins all-around, Suni Lee falters on original element

USA Gymnastics begins season’s first major domestic competition.


Kayla DiCello is pictured in 2019.

USA Gymnastics’ Winter Cup kicked off over the weekend in Louisville, Ky. This event was the first major domestic competition of the 2024 Olympic year. The Winter Cup traditionally serves as an option for athletes to test out new skills and begin the season at a competition with less pressure.

“This is our first major competition of the year, we’re not expecting everything to be here, to be perfect, to be their most difficulty. We’re expecting them to start adding some of their new things, trying out some of their new skills,” Chellsie Memmel, technical lead of USA Gymnastics, said during the broadcast. 

Kayla DiCello won the women’s all-around with a score of 56.850. DiCello was an alternate for the 2020 Olympic team and is currently taking a year off from NCAA competition for the University of Florida in a second attempt to make the Olympic team. Skye Blakely took second with a score of 54.650, followed by Hezly Rivera with 54.000.

I feel a lot better than I did back in 2021,” DiCello said, following her win. “With all the experience … it helps my confidence, just trusting myself and trusting the skills that I’m showing.”

The 2020 Olympic all-around champion Sunisa Lee returned to competition after announcing that her chronic kidney illness is now in remission, and she has recently been able to return to training full-time. Lee caused a sensation with training videos of a new original element on the uneven bars: a full-twisting layout jaeger release. The athlete swings backward, lets go of the bar, executes a front flip with a full twist and recatches the bar. This element has been given a very difficult H-rating domestically by USA Gymnastics.

“I was looking back at my ‘one-year-agos’ and I think we were in Kentucky, and that’s when I had the first flare up,” Lee said, prior to the competition. “I’m like, ‘Wow, it’s crazy what can happen in a year,’ because here I am a year later competing my new skill, and it’s just so exciting.”

Lee planned to compete at the Winter Cup in hopes of being named to the team at the Baku World Cup in Azerbaijan, an international competition, where this new element could be named after her upon successful competition. Lee executed her release almost perfectly during podium training, where the athletes have a chance to compete on the competition equipment in the days before the competition.

“I haven’t thought about anything else besides this meet and doing this skill, so we really just want to go to Baku, hopefully, and get it named,” Lee said.

However, during the competition, it seemed it was not to be. Lee fell on her signature element, making contact with her hands but slipping off in the end. After a disappointing performance on bars, she also faltered on beam during her acrobatic combination. Lee placed No. 26 on the uneven bars and No. 13 on the beam. It is unclear whether USA Gymnastics will send Lee to compete her new element.

“In all honesty, I think that it’s good that it happened here, rather than somewhere else. You can’t get anywhere without failure,” Lee said after the competition. “It’s just annoying because that was the first one that I missed the whole weekend. … I feel like I proved myself in practices, but then again, practices don’t matter if you can’t hit it in competition.”

Former NCAA all-around champion Trinity Thomas had a strong night as she returned to elite competition for the first time since 2019, finishing fourth in the standings. Thomas competed for the top-ranked University of Florida and now works as a graduate student assistant coach for the team while training elite.

“[My routines] are a little shaky, but it’s OK,” Thomas said before the competition. “I’ve mostly been doing bars; I hurt my foot a few weeks ago and haven’t done much on the other events.”

2012 Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas was expected to make her much-anticipated return to elite gymnastics more than ten years after she became the first African American to win the Olympic all-around. However, on Thursday she announced on Instagram that she had tested positive for COVID-19 and would be unable to compete.

“Gabby will now have to submit a petition for [the Core Hydration Classic]. Hopefully she can just get healthy and keep training,” Memmel said. “She can be invited to [National Team] Camp. There’s no reason she couldn’t be.”

2020 Olympic silver medalist Jordan Chiles also planned to compete at the Winter Cup, but she withdrew from competition in the weeks leading up to the event due to a minor shoulder injury. On the men’s side, World bronze medalist and Massachusetts native Fred Richard of the University of Michigan likewise withdrew due to minor injuries.

2020 Olympian Yul Moldauer won the men’s all-around with a total of 169.750 over two days of competition to edge out Day 1 leader Shane Wiskus, who finished with 167.450.

“[My goals are to] do my job, show that I’m going to hit routines, throw some upgrades. … This is an Olympic year, so I take [competition] very seriously,” Moldauer said before the competition. “Last year was a hard year for me mentally, and I had a lot to prove. I’m trying to just replicate the same thing … be myself, go out there and do my gymnastics.”

“Each event was a new challenge and a new opportunity to focus and try to be better than how I was yesterday,” Wiskus said after Day 1. “The last 5% of gymnastics is the one-tenth-ers and working on sticking your landings every single time, and the consistency. Right now I feel like I’m 95% of the way there, and the last 5% is what I’ll be working on for the next couple months.”

The men’s competition featured many athletes currently competing at the NCAA level, including teams from the Army, Air Force, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Navy, Nebraska, Oklahoma, The Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University and Stanford University. Due to a greater scoring similarity between collegiate and elite scoring for men than for women, far more men compete in both simultaneously.

Several of the top male gymnasts were absent, as they were busy competing internationally for the United States. Three Stanford athletes — 2023 World silver medalist Khoi Young, 2023 World bronze medalist Asher Hong and 2023 World alternate Colt Walker — traveled to Germany to compete at the Cottbus World Cup. 

The next major domestic elite competition for the women is the Core Hydration Classic on May 1718 in Hartford, Conn. The men will wait until they join the women at the 2024 Xfinity U.S. Gymnastics Championships on May 30June 2 in Fort Worth, Texas.