The Des Moines Register

The gymnastics event that helped mold and propel Olympic gold medal-winners Shawn Johnson, Jordyn Wieber and Kyla Ross is coming to Des Moines.

Iowa has landed the 2015 U.S. Women’s National Junior Olympic Championships, which is expected to attract 500 of the country’s top gymnasts May 15-16 at Hy-Vee Hall in the Iowa Events Center.

The event, organized by the Des Moines Area Sports Commission and Chow’s Gymnastics and Dance Institute in West Des Moines, will showcase likely members of future U.S. world championship teams, as well as top contenders for the 2020 Olympics.

“Absolutely. You can see the prospects for 2020,” said Liang Chow, co-owner of Chow’s Gymnastics, head coach of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team and an assistant coach at the 2012 Games in London. “It’s very, very competitive. All of the top people will be there.”

USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny said the Junior Olympics championship is a table-setter for the top gymnasts and events.

“This is one of our crown jewels,” Penny said in a telephone interview. “This meet represents that backbone of our sport. This is their chance to make a statement.”

There also is the potential for unmined talent to excel during the competition and be fast-tracked to the world championships or even the 2016 Olympics.

Kayla Williams competed at the Junior Olympics in 2009, caught the eye of coaches and was moved to elite competition. Months later, Williams won the vault at the world championships and later helped Alabama win the 2012 NCAA team title.

“(Junior Olympics) are still very much a breeding ground of talent,” Penny said.

The decision by the sport’s governing body to hold the event in Des Moines, first reported on DesMoinesRegister.com, signals the growing gymnastics profile of the area, Penny said.

“I think it’s a big deal, because it recognizes the role Des Moines has started to play in our sport,” he said. “You look at the last two Olympic teams with what Chow has done and the city’s support of two of our key team members, Shawn Johnson and Gabby Douglas.

“It speaks volumes.”

On May 17, a day after the championships, another 200 gymnasts will compete at an event called the Junior Olympics National Invitational Tournament at Hy-Vee Hall — meaning Des Moines would welcome an estimated 700 competitors that weekend.

For context: Three of Chow’s top gymnasts competed at the 2012 Junior Olympics championships for Level 10 — the highest level possible before reaching elite and national team status.

Rachel Gowey, Norah Flatley and Alexis Vasquez all finished in the top four of the all-around competition last year in Hampton, Va.

Bela Karolyi, one of the most recognized names in the sport, told The Des Moines Register this month that Flatley and Gowey are legitimate contenders for the 2016 Olympic team, which will compete in Rio de Janeiro. Vasquez joined Flatley and Gowey at the Secret U.S. Classic in 2013.

Courtney Loper, who recently won the regional all-around championship and floor exercise, is a Level 10 gymnast from Chow’s who could be in the mix next May in Des Moines, along with Emma Brown.

“I think it’s a great honor,” Chow said of securing the Junior Olympics championship. “We’re excited.”

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