Elite and NCAA Gymnast Training Updates—Part 11


Full Twist contributor Anna Rose Johnson recently caught up with some elite, Level 10, and NCAA gymnasts to discuss their training, future goals, and more.

Abby Allain, Whitney Cronin, Sophina DeJesus, Carly Israel, Michelle Lauritsen, Lauren Maxwell, Nina McGee, Courtney McGregor, Chantysha Netteb, MyKayla Skinner, Shannon St. Jean, Amanda Talbot, and Ailen Valente provided us with thoughtful insights into their training.



Abby Allain is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast who trains at Cypress Pointe Gymnastics with her coaches Bryan Neal and Donna Ewing. “My training has been going great!” Abby told Full Twist. “I have been learning lots of new skills since Easterns last May. Some of them I will compete this upcoming season, and others are for next year. Beam is my favorite event! I have a new dismount: back handspring stepout, back handspring, 3/2. I have been training various aerial/leap combinations which I find lots of fun. On floor, I am using my same routine as last year, but I have really been working on improving my presentation. I have also upgraded my tumbling. One of my favorite passes on floor is my rudi. Bars training has been amazing! I am working hard on my Tkatchev, as well as my twisting skills, and a double layout dismount. I am so excited about this upcoming season, routines are coming together, and I can’t wait to compete my first year as a Level 10.”

At the 2014 Level 9 Eastern Nationals, Abby placed 10th in the all-around and fourth on floor exercise. “My short-term goals are to develop consistent routines, and to qualify to Level 10 Nationals this season.  Beyond that, I would like to place top five in the AA and on beam at nationals. As a ‘First Year 10’, I realize this may be difficult, but I am going to work extra hard toward achieving that goal for sure. My long-term goal would be to obtain a scholarship to a Division I university, and possibly test elite. Becoming a NCAA gymnast has always been a top priority of mine. It is something I decided at a very early age I wanted to do, and have worked hard each year to give myself the best possible chance. I have had my top three favorite schools for several years now. To attend one of those would be a dream come true!”

As Abby mentioned, she might try elite gymnastics. “I understand because of my age, the timing is a bit off, however, I would still like to try and test elite. At the very least, I plan to train elite-level skills for Level 10. If I do qualify elite, my next goal would be to make the national team.”

The 14-year-old described her upcoming competitions to us: “I have a busy January! I kick off my season at the Southern Classic in Biloxi, Mississippi, on January 2, 2015. Then, our team heads to the National Judges Cup the following weekend, and the Sand Dollar/ Whitlow Invitational on January 22.  We come back home the first weekend in February for our meet, the Cypress Pointe Classic.”

When asked if there was anything she’d like to tell the Full Twist readers, Abby said, “I absolutely love gymnastics; it is my passion! I put in lots of hours training for this sport, and it takes a huge commitment. My motto is Philippians 4:13, and it carries me through both the good and bad days. I am blessed with wonderful coaches, teammates, and family, and I am so thankful for their support! I would encourage everyone to find their passion, set goals, and have fun enjoying the journey. I would love for people to check out my YouTube channel, as well as my personal website. Here you can follow my training, and check out results from this season.”



Whitney Cronin is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from High Point Gymnastics Academy in North Carolina. At the 2014 Region 8 Championships, she placed 17th in the all-around. “Training has been going really well!” Whitney told Full Twist. “We have been preparing for the season and focusing on cleaning up and perfecting our routines. I have upgraded a lot of my routines from last season and I am very excited to compete them! Some of the new skills I have put into my routines are a Jaeger on bars, piked full-in on floor, and a yurchenko layout full on vault!”

Whitney says she is going to focus on Level 10 rather than trying elite gymnastics, and she has several goals for the future. “My short-term goals are to have a great season and hit all the new skills that I upgraded this past year,” said Whitney. “I also hope to make it to J.O. Nationals! My long-term goals are to attain a full scholarship to a Division I college and compete AA.”

The 15-year-old told us, “Our first official meet is the Atlanta Crown Invitational and that is in January.”

Whitney added, “I am very excited to compete this season and I can’t wait to see what the future holds!”



Sophina DeJesus has had an illustrious career in gymnastics. A former U.S. elite artistic gymnast, Sophina was a member of the 2009 junior national team and competed at the 2010 and 2011 CoverGirl Classics as a senior. In 2013, Sophina joined the NCAA team at UCLA, where she has competed for the past two years. “Training has been going great,” Sophina told Full Twist. “[I’m] getting ready for UCLA gymnastics season, super excited to start competing!”

In 2013, Sophina decided to begin competing for Puerto Rico in international competitions. “One of the biggest reasons why I switched over to Puerto Rico is because my grandparents are getting older and it would make them really proud of me to compete for Puerto Rico,” she noted. “And me personally I thought it would be very exciting experience and tap into my other roots.”

When asked if she might debut any new skills in 2015, Sophina said, “Maybe! I’ve trained some new skills, and [possibly] might use them in the future, just in case anything pops up, you never know.”

On the subject of her goals for the upcoming season (both collegiately and in elite), Sophina told us, “For my upcoming season I’m excited to perform and get the crowd excited. I’m super pumped for my new floor routine; it’s a blast and I hope the audience enjoys it as well.”


Carly Israel is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast who trains at California Gymnastics Academy. She is the reigning Level 9 Western National Champion in the all-around. “My training has been going good,” Carly told Full Twist. “I [am] transitioning from connected skills to full routines. I am looking forward to my first season of Level 10. I am working on my endurance on floor as I have moved my double back to my last pass. We just had our intrasquad and I’m looking forward to competing with my Level 10 teammates.”

The 16-year-old commented that she is “not thinking about elite gymnastics” and that she is just focusing on Level 10. She mentioned, “My short-term goals are to have a healthy and competitive Level 10 season. My long-term goals are to get a NCAA scholarship or a chance to compete on a NCAA Division I team.”

When asked about her next competition, Carly said, “I just had my intrasquad this past week [December 20th]. My first competition is January 10th, the Golden State Classic in Sacramento, California.”

Carly added, “When I think about gymnastics, I realize all that I have learned from training and competing—congratulating others whether you win or lose—believe in yourself no matter what—be thankful for those that support you along the way (family, coaches, teammates)—be patient because hard work pays off in the end—and enjoy the journey.”



Michelle Lauritsen is an elite artistic gymnast from Denmark. At the age of twenty-six, has competed in six World Championships, her first being the 2006 Worlds in her home country. “Right now the season is over and my training is a bit more relaxed!” Michelle told Full Twist. “I’m still working hard but physically I’m slowing down to make [my] body have some time to relax as well! My training is now focused [on] new elements and cleaning [up] old stuff.”

At the 2014 Worlds in Nanning, Michelle competed on two events—vault and uneven bars. “I always learn from Worlds!” she commented. “How my preparation has been towards the competition and how I’m mentally ready! This time wasn’t my best Worlds! I had [an] injury some month[s] before and it was hard to get back on track, but what I [got] from this experience just made me stronger! I had a good time in China and the competition went well but the way there was harder than it was supposed to be!”

On the subject of new skills for 2015, Michelle told us, “I hope to do the Gienger salto between the bars and maybe [a] Shaposhnikova as well! Bars is my favourite!”

Michelle noted that her next competition “will probably be in March 2015 so until that time I need to get back in shape and work hard for my goal and hopefully I will take part in the Europeans in France and [the] European Games! This is what I’m looking forward to so far.”

When asked if there was anything she’d like to tell the Full Twist readers, Michelle said, “Only that what gymnastics [has] been giving to me during all these years in the gym made me who I am today and gave me the power and strength to keep going and fight for my dreams! Gymnasts are tough girls with passion and with love for what they do every day! I can honestly say that I’m proud [of] what I have become and I’m so thankful for what gymnastics and my friends around the world have been giving to me! Gymnastics is not only a sport—it’s love around the world and that’s fantastic! It’s one big family.”



Lauren Maxwell is a U.S. Level 9 artistic gymnast from San Mateo Gymnastics. At the 2014 Level 8 Regional Championships, she won bronze medals in the all-around and on the uneven bars. “Right now I am competing Level 9 and my short-term goals are to constantly be upgrading my skills and of course compete very well this season and make it to Westerns,” Lauren told Full Twist. “I just had an in-house meet and it went good. I did make mistakes but I have learned from them and know when I start officially competing in a few weeks I will have already made upgrades and improvements. I love competing and showing off to the judges all my hard work so this is my favorite time of year!”

On the subject of goals, the 14-year-old commented, “My long-term goals are to definitely compete at a Division I college. This is truly my dream! I know a lot of girls have this same dream so I realize I have to always be thinking about how I can set myself apart. There are girls that have moved up quicker than me but have either quit, gotten injured or don’t even enjoy competing and I just keep pushing forward and improving and I know the judges see the true joy I exude once I salute them and start performing. Since I have started researching colleges I realize I want to go to one where not only do they have an amazing gymnastics program with a supportive family feel but have a wonderful Art program as well since art is my second passion. I already have a portfolio of my art work that I am excited to share!”

Lauren mentioned her thoughts on competing in elite: “Honestly, I love watching elite gymnastics (I went to Olympic Trials in 2012 and plan to go for my 16th birthday in 2016) and of course when I was a 6-year old just starting in this sport I was convinced I would be an Olympian. But as I got older I realized how few girls really have what it takes. I know I have the competitiveness to do it but my family has sacrificed so much for me to do this sport and we have already moved quite a bit. If I had started at my current gym (San Mateo Gymnastics) and had always been there then I have no doubt I could have been elite.”

She told us that her first competition of the season “is on January 10th at the Golden State Classic in Rancho Cordova, California.”

Lauren added, “I want Full Twist readers to know that even when you experience tough times if this sport is your passion just keep pushing through and don’t quit.  I went through two years of growth spurt injuries because I grew from 4’7″ to 4’11” and there were times when I was really frustrated but I still kept going. I have only missed one meet in my career due to injury and that broke my heart because it was a State Meet and I was having such a great season. Also, I have ADHD and as most of the readers know you have to be super focused in this sport on so many different things at one time. It is truly amazing that I have made it as far as I have. While having ADHD maybe made things tougher for me with the time it took to learn new skills, once I got them I got them and I always had good form too. Somehow I think I have been able to turn it to an advantage. There are girls that learn things quicker than me but their form and the way they compete isn’t always there. My routines are typically very clean and again once I salute the judges I go into auto pilot and try to put on a show for them.”



Nina McGee is a former U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast who now competes in NCAA gymnastics at the University of Denver. “Training has been going very well,” Nina told Full Twist. “Pre-season has come and gone in a flash! I took some time off in the beginning of the pre-season to allow my legs to recover and I have really been working hard to smooth out the kinks and improve my technique since I’ve only been training since October. My focus for this pre-season [has] really been the little things such as pointing my toes, locking my knees and even keeping my teammates pumped up and motivated. A positive attitude will carry over into season and allow us to compete to the best of our ability.”

At 2014 Regionals, Nina was fourth on uneven bars and floor exercise and placed first on beam and floor at the MRGC Championships. “This season I have goals that I would love for my team to achieve together as well as a few personal goals,” Nina remarked. “Collectively as a team we want to break into the top 10 in rankings at some point throughout the regular season. We are very strong mentally and I believe we have the competitive edge to make it happen this season. Personally I want to improve the score on my vault—get out of the 9.8 range. This is my second year competing my Tsuk 1/1 on vault and sometimes I surprise myself at how well I can execute it so just carrying that out to the competition floor is the plan. Lastly I’m looking to set new career highs on each event and on floor, this means going for a 10.0.”

On the subject of debuting new skills in 2015, Nina told us, “This season I am not looking to debut any new skills. I’ve pretty much kept the same skills for the past five years. This year I’m really excited to debut my floor routine. It’s very funky and has some current music so I think the crowd will love it.”

Nina added, “I’m looking forward to the start of this coming season! This year we have an exciting schedule both home and away with us going to Cal-Berkeley and West Virginia as well as having Ohio State, Georgia, and Oklahoma (just to name a few) coming to us!”



Courtney McGregor is an elite artistic gymnast from New Zealand. At the 2014 World Championships, she competed on three events—vault, uneven bars, and balance beam. “Training has been going really well,” Courtney told Full Twist. “After Worlds we flew straight home and competed at our nationals the next day! So I’m enjoying a break from training routines and instead focusing on learning some new stuff and cleaning up old skills.”

The 16-year-old has already made a big name for herself internationally, winning a silver medal on vault at the 2014 Pacific Rim Championships and finishing eighth in the floor final. “I’m working a few new skills at the moment,” remarked Courtney. “I’m hoping to upgrade my second vault for next year and am working on new dismounts for bars and beam. I am not really working on any new tumbles, just trying to get my old ones back after my knee injury (I didn’t compete floor at Worlds).”

While Courtney said she’s not 100% sure when her next competition will be, she said that “most likely it will be sometime around April-May.”

When asked about her short-term and long-term goals, Courtney said, “My short-term goals are to continue to gain skills and compete internationally. My long-term goals are to go to the Olympic Games and to get a college scholarship!”



 Chantysha Netteb is an elite artistic gymnast from the Netherlands. She lives in Amsterdam and trains at Bato Haarlem. At her debut World Championships in 2013, Chantysha made the vault final and unfortunately could not finish due to an ACL tear. “I am now in my final stage of my rehabilitation,” Chantysha told Full Twist. “I do a lot of strength training for my legs and I am training things [that] I can and [I’m building] everything up slowly.”

When asked about her next meet, Chantysha told us, “I do not know when my next competition will be. First I want to [be] fully recovered and conditionally strong before I go back to participate in competitions.”

Chantysha explained her goals in gymnastics: “My goal at the moment is to make sure that I can get back to my old level or better. Besides that, I want to make myself stronger on all apparatus and my ultimate goal is of course to participate in the 2016 Olympic Games.”



MyKayla Skinner is a member of the U.S. senior national team in artistic gymnastics. At the 2014 World Championships, she won a gold medal with her team, and in the preliminary round, she finished sixth in the all-around. She went on to place fourth in the floor final, and also took home the bronze medal on vault. “Training has been going great,” MyKayla told Full Twist. “[I’ve] been working half sets and will have ¾ sets ready for January camp. I also have been working on new skills to add into my routines.”

The powerful champion from Desert Lights in Arizona has a great deal of new skills she’s working on for 2015. When asked to describe her skills, she said, “Triple-double on floor. Half-on, 2½-off on vault. Round-off 1 ½ through to a triple on floor. Maloney to a Pak, to a Maloney-half on bars. Double-double dismount on bars. Round-off, full-in dismount on beam. I am currently working these new skills but am not sure when they will be competition-ready.”

We’ll have an opportunity to see MyKayla compete very soon—on January 15th, USA Gymnastics announced that MyKayla is going to be competing alongside fellow American Simone Biles in the AT&T American Cup on March 7th in Arlington, Texas.

On the subject of her gymnastics goals, MyKayla told us, “My short-term goals are to focus on the spring elite season, to be selected to compete in some international meets this year, and be selected again for the World Championships to [be] held in Glasgow, Scotland. My long-term goal is make the 2016 Olympic Team in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.” MyKayla added that she “deferred a year with the University of Utah to train for the 2016 Olympics.”



Shannon St. Jean is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from Gymnastics Revolution in Connecticut. She competed at the Junior Olympic NIT in 2012 and the 2014 Region 6 Championships, where she placed 14th in the all-around. “I’ve been very consistent this season and have been training a lot of new skills,” Shannon told Full Twist.

When asked about her short-term and long-term gymnastics goals, Shannon told us, “Short-term—top five in the all-around at my next competition; long-term—Division I [college] team.”

On the subject of new skills for 2015, Shannon revealed that she is working on a “double layout on floor [and a] front tuck step out to round-off, back handspring double tuck.”

Shannon, who is sixteen, also mentioned that her next competition will be on January 23rd, 2015.



Amanda Talbot is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from Gymnastics Training Center of Ohio. At the 2014 State Championships, she placed eighth in the all-around with a score of 36.100. “My training has been going really well,” Amanda told Full Twist. “Unfortunately, I have had some small injuries that have limited the number of repetitions I can do on each event. My coaches have been helpful in managing my numbers on each event during practice and it has really helped my body. I was pleased with the result of my first competition and I look forward to each practice as an opportunity to work hard and perfect my routines. Right now we are focusing more on skill routines and breaking the routine into halves as we do not have another competition for four weeks. I like doing half routines so I can focus on my form and the little things such as hitting handstands, pointing toes, and sticking landings.”

2015 will be Amanda’s second year as a Level 10 gymnast. She mentioned her goals for the future: “Short-term I would like to stay healthy and consistently make my routines in practice and at upcoming competitions. Long-term I would love the opportunity to make Nationals, especially as a senior.”

On the subject of new skills, Amanda told us, “I am hoping to debut my double pike on floor exercise at my next competition and also my side aerial side aerial connection on beam later this season.” Amanda also said, “My next meet is the Cincinnati Coaches Spectacular at the Cincinnati Convention Center [on] January 16th.”

Amanda has had an extremely successful career in club gymnastics and has relished the opportunities she’s had. “I have done gymnastics since I was 3 years old,” she explained. “This sport has been my life and I could not imagine my life without it. People don’t understand how tough gymnastics is. There is little margin of error in this sport and the amount of hard work put into the sport is tremendous. My biggest advice is to never ever give up. The sport is mentally and physically exhausting but it will all be worth it. I am so thankful for all the opportunities gymnastics has given me inside and outside of the gym.”



Ailen Valente is an elite artistic gymnast from Argentina. A native of Buenos Aires, Ailen competed at the 2014 World Championships in Nanning, China. “It’s been a rough year,” Ailen told Full Twist. “And the objectives were; first to be at the top 8 countries at the Pan American Championships and in the top 24 at Worlds, and second to give my best performance in both of them. Although we weren’t able to be at the top 24 at Worlds, I believe we gave our best as a team. Individually I’m very happy with this because it was a good competition and I was the best ranked of my country. Of course there are lots of things to improve and I’m working really hard on it.”

At Worlds, Ailen placed 72nd in the all-around in qualifications, and her Argentine team placed 28th. “I’m working on new skills for 2015,” said Ailen. “I hope to able to get some E elements on floor, as well as on uneven bars, along with some new combinations in order to improve my D-score. [Also] on uneven bars, which is my strongest apparatus, I’m working on some new skills which in fact I tried out in the South American championship last week, where I finished first [in the] all-around and got silver in uneven bars finals, bronze in balance beam and floor.”

Ailen mentioned when she will compete next: “My next competitions are the World Cups in March and April in Cottbus, Qatar and Ljubljana.”

When asked if there was anything she’d like to tell the Full Twist readers, Ailen replied, “I would like to thank the readers of the [blog] for showing support to all gymnasts around the world and thank Full Twist for contacting me.”

Special thanks to all the gymnasts for chatting with us! Stay tuned for Part 12, which will include updates with Simone Biles, Nia Dennis, and others!

Image via: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images North America


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