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Local gymnasts vie for national title at 2019 US Gymnastics Championships

Posted at 11:04 PM, Aug 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-09 00:30:23-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The best gymnasts in the country are in Kansas City, Missouri, to compete in the 2019 U.S. Gymnastics Championships.

That includes three local gymnasts, who are ready to wow their hometown crowd in what many consider the first major step towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Kara Eaker, Aleah Finnegan and Leanne Wong are currently members of the USA Artistic Gymnastics National Senior Team. They train six days a week at the Gage Center in Blue Springs with coaches Armine Barutyan and Al Fong.

Beginning with competition Friday, the trio will aim to earn a spot back on the 2019-2020 national senior team during the championships at the Sprint Center.

Eaker from Grain Valley is garnering buzz for her balance beam performance at the Pan American Games in Peru last week, when she won a gold medal.

Wong is the 2019 American Cup champion and won silver at the Pan American Games in the uneven bars.

Finnegan also earned a spot on the U.S. team for the Pan American Games, but she had to pull out of the vault final with an injury.

Now, she is ready to compete in Kansas City.'

All three have been focused on the 2020 Olympics, while also trying to take it one meet at a time. The championships this weekend are an important step.

There will be more competitions in the coming months and agai next summer, including the 2020 U.S. Gymnastics Olympic Team Trials in St. Louis where the Olympic team will be decided.

“The end goal is definitely the Olympics,” Eaker said. “It's like each puzzle piece and the Olympics is the whole entire picture.”

While these athletes are dedicated gymnasts, they also have to be dedicated to scholastic studies.

“Yes, because it’s important,” Barutyan said. “One point, gymnastics is done.”

Their coaches want them to have straight A's to train at Gage.

Wong said she plans to go into medicine.

Eaker said she loves robotics and plans to study engineering.

THis isn't the first time Barutyan and Fong have trained Olympic medalists. Terin Humphrey and Courtney McCool also trained at Gage and Sarah Finnegan, Aleah’s older sister, was chosen as an alternate for the 2012 Olympic team.

“She just motivates me to keep going,” Aleah said of her sister. “I think it's just amazing, because I have someone to go to and she understands it.”

The coaches have enjoyed watching Eaker, Finnegan and Wong blossom into Olympic hopefuls after several years of intense training.

“One year at a time, one season at a time,” Barutyan said.

Despite the one-meet-at-a-time mantra, there's definitely something special about competing for a national title a few miles down Interstate 70 from where they train.

“It's really exciting being able to show everyone at home what I do,” Eaker said.

Wong agreed, “It’s a really big deal."

“I just want to represent Kansas City as best as I possibly can and I just want to make everyone proud,” Aleah said.

Find the complete schedule for the championships and a link to buy tickets on the USA Gymnastics website.