In August, Leanne Wong competed at the U.S. Championships, and unfortunately, due to being injured, she was unable to compete in all events, however, she came away as the Gold medallist and co-champion on the Uneven Bars. As a student at the University of Florida, Leanne has competed in 15 competitions in her freshman year, including winning at the SEC Championships with the Florida Gators, and her return to elite competitions for the first time since starting college was at this year’s U.S. Classic, where she won Gold in the All-Around and on the Vault and Balance Beam and Bronze on the Floor. Leanne was announced as an Alternate for Team USA at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and she won Silver in the All-Around and Bronze on the Floor at the 2021 World Championships. With her junior elite career, Leanne won numerous medals including at the 2018 U.S. Classic and U.S. Championships, and since December 2021, she has been running Leanne Wong Bowtique selling signature handmade hair bows. Speaking with Leanne, she tells us about becoming a champion at this year’s U.S. Championships and U.S. Classic, her time so far with Florida Gators and running Leanne Wong Bowtique.
At the recent U.S. Championships, you won Gold on the Uneven Bars, what was it like to win?
At the U.S. Championships in August, winning the Gold on Uneven Bars was the highlight of my competition. I went into the competition with plans to compete all four events and earn a spot on the 2022 US National Team, however, I was unable to compete all four events due to an ankle injury. I didn’t want to make my injury worse, so I ended up just competing Uneven Bars and Beam on both days. I was proud of myself for competing a new Bars routine with a new skill (pak-full) and executing my best Bars routines on both days to be named a National Uneven Bars co-champion. I also placed 5th on Balance Beam. I was very thankful to walk away from the meet knowing I didn’t make my ankle injury worse and won a Gold medal on Bars. I was disappointed that I wasn’t recognised and named in the National team since I was unable to compete four events.
Earlier this year, you competed at the 2022 U.S. Classic, how did it feel returning to elite competitions after attending college?
After attending college and returning to elite competitions, I felt that I was able to handle it pretty well after finishing my collegiate season this April. Elite gymnastics focuses on a higher level of difficulty while college routines focus mainly on execution.
I really enjoyed competing at the 2022 U.S. Classic upon my return from college. This was my first competition back at the elite level after competing 15 times during the collegiate season. I competed in 11 out of 15 meets doing all four events in college. It was a good check to see where I was with my elite routines and how I could improve for the upcoming elite competitions.
You came away with three Golds and a Bronze, including Gold in the All-Around, what was this like?
I was honoured to win the 2022 U.S. Classics title. I was very happy with my performance earning three Gold medals on Vault, Beam, and the All-Around. I was happy to compete two different vaults for the first time in my elite career and earned an individual medal. I definitely felt that I was in a good place at the time and learned where I needed the most work.
Can you tell us about competing at the World Championships last year, where you won Silver in the All-Around and Bronze on the Floor?
The World Championships in 2021 was one of the most fun competitions I have ever competed at. The experience was amazing since it was my first time on the world stage and competed with athletes from all over the world. There were many days of competition including the qualifications, All-Around final, event finals, and normally Team, but there was no Team competition since the Olympics had just taken place that year. I was very happy to have won the All-Around Silver medal at my first World Championships and the Bronze medal on Floor.
How was it being an alternate for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games?
I was honoured to be an alternate for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, but it wasn’t an experience I like to be reminded of. My trip was very uneventful and filled with a lot of uncertainties. I had to train at the same intensity as the girls on the main team even though there was little chance I would compete being an alternate, and I would never wish for someone else to get injured or unable to compete.
When I arrived in Tokyo, I trained in the practice gym two times before my roommate tested positive for COVID. We were both put in separate rooms in quarantine until her second test came back negative, so her first test was a false positive! We then returned to practice until the next morning when my roommate tested positive again. After that, our Olympic experiences were officially over. We both remained in our own hotel rooms for the rest of the trip.
Since I never tested positive for COVID, I was told I would either be able to go back to practice after five days or get to go home. Neither of them ever happened while I had to test for COVID on a daily basis. I ended up staying in quarantine for 11 days before I left Tokyo with the continuous anxiety of my test result coming back positive one day. This experience was not fun, but it gave me time to think about what I wanted to do after the Olympics, so I decided I would return home and train for the 2022 World Championships.
What do you enjoy most about attending Florida Gators and what encouraged you to train there?
I decided to become a Florida Gator because of their great athletic and academic programs. I have absolutely loved all the coaches from the beginning and always knew I wanted to become a Gator, but I kept my doors open and waited to make my decision when it was time. I also always wanted to attend school in a place with warm weather and palm trees all over campus. I enjoy attending school in Florida because of my teammates and everyone the team gets to work with.
Can you say about some of the competitions you’ve competed in whilst part of Florida Gators, which has included the team winning Silver at the 2022 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships?
I competed in 15 meets during my freshman year at the University of Florida. Competing with the Florida Gators throughout 15 competitions was so much fun. I gradually got to know all my teammates at all of the away meets, and enjoyed the journey. The Florida Gators won every meet during the regular season, won the SEC Championships, and placed 2nd at the 2022 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships. We all felt that we fell short of our goal of winning the title, but we were proud of ourselves for being runner-up. This will make us work harder to want to win the Championships.
What are some of your stand-out highlights from your gymnastics career so far?
Some of my stand-out highlights from my gymnastics career include winning the 2018 U.S. Classics and 2018 U.S. Championships as a junior elite gymnast, winning the All-Around title at the 2019 American Cup during my debut as a senior elite, becoming a Tokyo Olympic alternate, winning two medals at the World Championships, and contributing to the Florida Gators. I was fortunate to have scored two perfect tens (Vault and Bars), scored 39.875 in one of the meets, become an All-American, and make the All-SEC and All-SEC Freshman Teams. I am excited to see what the future holds and continue achieving goals.
How was it transitioning from junior level to senior and do you have any favourite memories from being a junior gymnast?
Transitioning from the junior level of elite gymnastics to the senior level wasn’t too difficult since my gymnastics has just continued to grow over the years. Once I entered the senior level, I knew I needed to increase my difficulty in order to be competitive at the senior level. I continued to learn new skills and upgraded my difficulty over time.
The first meet I competed at as a senior elite gymnast was the 2019 American Cup. It was a Federal International Gymnastics (FIG) World Cup with gymnasts from all over the world. I was honoured to compete with World champions and Olympians. My favourite memory as a junior elite gymnast was winning the 2018 U.S. All-Around title. I was honoured to have accomplished that and finished my junior elite career off strong.
Where does your love of gymnastics come from and had you always wanted to compete at the elite level?
My love for gymnastics comes from competing. My favourite part of the sport is getting to travel all over the U.S. and the world after becoming an international elite. I enjoy performing and the challenge when it comes to competitions.
When I was younger, I didn’t set goals that were too far ahead of my future. As I was growing up, I saw a lot of older gymnasts in the gym quit the sport, so I was never sure how far I could go. I just enjoyed every level of the sport and took it one day at a time. I didn’t think of elite gymnastics until my head coaches Al and Armine Fong told me I had the potential of becoming an elite gymnast. From then on, I had goals of becoming an elite and dreaming of competing in the Olympics someday.
What is a typical training day for you and how different is it in the lead-up to a major competition?
For about eight years up to the Olympics, I trained for about five-and-a-half hours during the school year and up to seven hours a day during the summer, where we had two workouts per day. During off-season, gymnasts normally focus on upgrading their routines and learning new skills, but when it comes to a major competition, gymnasts are putting numbers into routines. The routines a gymnast competes are usually the skills that the gymnast has already mastered and ready to perfect for competition.
Have you been given any advice over your career so far that has stuck with you and what advice would you give a gymnast heading to college?
The greatest advice I have learned throughout my career is to set short and long-term goals. Without short-term goals, it is impossible to achieve long-term goals.
For a gymnast heading to college, I would tell them to take it slow, get to know their new coaches and team, and be determined to help the team win a National Championship. Without each individual team member’s drive, determination, and hard work, it’s impossible to achieve such a big goal as a team.
We understand you run Leanne Wong Bowtique, how did this come about and what can you say about it?
I began my entrepreneurial career in December of 2021 when I started my Leanne Wong Bowtique. It is an online business where I sell my signature handmade hair bows. I was known for my bows after I made a bow in my high school elective class and started wearing them to every practice and competition. I first started wearing them in 2018 and decided to share them with everyone in 2021 after the Tokyo Olympics and World Championships. I spent my Christmas break setting up my own website and taking all the pictures of various colours of bows. I got a lot of help from my mom who also runs the business with me. I am thankful that my mom helps me while I am busy with school and gymnastics. It has been a blessing to have so many girls in the gymnastics community support my business and wear my bows. Nowadays, I enjoy wearing my leotards with a bow and my signature printed on the back of them! I am also just starting to sell the leos to other gymnasts on my bow website (leannewongbowtique.com). www.instagram.com
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
When I am not doing gymnastics or school, I am often managing Leanne Wong Bowtique, my Instagram accounts (@leanne.wong_ and @leannewongbowtique), and also enjoy cooking and spending time with friends and family. When I have free time, I like cooking for my roommates and family.
Since getting injured at the recent U.S. National Championships, how is recovery coming along and what future competitions are you targeting?
Since getting injured at the recent U.S. National Championships, I am focused on healing and preparing for the World Selection in October. This will be the final elite competition I can attend this year before the next collegiate season begins in January. I want to make sure I am healthy for the selection, so I can work toward accomplishing my personal goals. I also want to heal well getting ready for my next collegiate season, so I can compete at my full potential and contribute to the Florida Gators as much as I can.
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