KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Gymnastics has its superstar, and crowds packed Sprint Center on Friday night to see Simone Biles in action.
"What a great competitor. What a great role model. What a great technician. What a great everything!" Al Fong said before day one of Friday night's Senior Women's U.S. Gymnastics Championship.
Fong and his wife Armine Barutyan coach at GAGE Center in Blue Springs. Three of their athletes -- Kara Eaker, 16, Aleah Finnegan, 16, and Leanne Wong, 15 -- are competing in the championship this weekend.
He hopes his three athletes competing will join Biles in Tokyo in 2020.
"It’s not about beating her. It’s about joining her, and that’s exactly what we plan on doing," he said.
“Kara is very sharp. Aleah is like very happy and bubbly, and Leanne, her floor routine is amazing," said 12-year-old Malea Milton, who also trains at GAGE.
Their young teammates were part of a big contingent supporting the three local gymnasts who just formed three-fifths of the U.S. team at the Pan Am Games in Peru last week.
Wong trailed the leader Biles after Day 1 of the competition in Kansas City, ending up in fifth place. Eaker is in eleventh, and Finnegan is fourteenth of 17 competitors.
“The competition is where the rubber meets the road. We will see who can do it when it counts. GAGE, the gymnasts there have proven they are up to what they need to do," U.S.A. Gymnastics High Performance Team Coordinator Tom Forster said.
Forster is on the committee that will determine who will represent Team U.S.A. in the Olympics next year. This weekend’s results are a big first step.
“This is something they’ve been working on since they were children. They’ve always known they had high goals and you blink and all of a sudden here it is one year before the Olympics," Fong said.
Inspired by the success of Eaker, Wong and Finnegan, their youngest teammates already have their eyes on 2024.
"Hopefully we just keep working hard and we get there someday," Milton said.