2021 | Sports

Montgomery County gymnast competing this weekend at Olympic trials

DiCello has been flipping, tumbling and flying through the air since she was 2

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Kayla DiCello does a split leap during a floor exercise at the 2021 U.S. National Championships.

Photo by John Cheng for USA Gymnastics

Kayla DiCello, a 17-year-old gymnast from Montgomery County, will compete at the Olympic trials this weekend in St. Louis, Mo. She is one of 18 gymnasts trying to make the U.S. women’s team.

DiCello, who lives in Boyds and trains at Hill’s Gymnastics in Gaithersburg, recently finished up her junior year at Northwest High School.

She said she did not have time for an interview right before the trials, but she agreed to answer questions from Bethesda Beat by email.

She wrote that a chance at the Olympic team has been a long-term goal of hers since early in her gymnastics career.

“Going into trials, I want to remain focused, consistent, and to take one event at a time,” she wrote.

Gymnast Kayla DiCello at the U.S. Olympic Team trials. (Photo by Sunisa Lee)

DiCello has been tumbling and flipping through the air since age 2 at Mommy and Me classes at Hill’s Gymnastics. She continued taking Hill’s classes as she grew older.

Eventually, she was invited to join the Baby Hill’s team, which leads to the Hill’s Angels Team program.

“I enjoyed all the jumping, tumbling, and flying around you can do in gymnastics; so much fun. I was lucky to have started at Hill’s and 15 years later to still be a Hill’s Angel and a member of the U.S. National Team is so awesome,” DiCello wrote.

DiCello is a top contender for a spot on Team USA in all four individual events — floor, uneven bars, vault and balance beam.

In 2019, DiCello became the U.S. junior national champion and was the junior world champion on vault.

In March 2020, days before the COVID-19 pandemic clamped down on many activities, DiCello made her senior debut on the U.S. national team at the American Cup. She finished second in the all-around competition.

DiCello was on her way to begin her first year as a senior gymnast, moving toward the ultimate goal — the Olympics — but the pandemic shut down the rest of the 2020 competition season, as well as the 2020 Olympics. Competition season returned in 2021.

This month, DiCello won silver in the floor exercise at the 2021 U.S. National Championships, finishing behind Simone Biles.

DiCello also placed 11th in the all-around competition. Afterward, she was selected to the U.S. senior women’s national team to advance to the U.S. Olympic team trials.

“Overall, it was not one of my better weekends, but the experience was really beneficial for me and it was good to be competing in that setting. The highlight was definitely hitting my floor routine on both days,” DiCello wrote.

The U.S. women’s gymnastics team has four spots up for grabs in the Tokyo team event. The top two women in the all-around, based on the sum of scores from both trial days, automatically get spots on the four-member Olympic team.

A selection committee will choose the last two team members.

The committee will also choose a fifth gymnast to compete in individual events only.

Typically, there are two individual spots up for grabs, but one has already been guaranteed to gymnast Jade Carey, which was offered to her based on her performances in the Apparatus World Cup series from 2018 to 2020.

Competitors in individual events may qualify to the Olympic all-around and the event finals, but their scores do not count toward the team total.

The trials began on Thursday with the men’s competition. The women’s competition begins on Friday.

The trials can be seen on cable television on Friday at 7:30 p.m. on the Olympic Channel or at 8 p.m. on NBC. The second day of competition for women will be shown on Sunday at 8 p.m.

This year’s Olympics comes one year later than intended because of the pandemic.

The postponement of the Olympics last year was a disappointment to athletes, but for some, the extra year was also a benefit. Athletes had more time to train and perfect their form.

The delay allowed some younger athletes to become old enough to compete in their sport. The minimum age to compete with the Olympic gymnastics team is 16, which is how old Kayla was.

For DiCello, the extra year was beneficial. She had more time to add “upgrades” — skills of higher difficulty — to her routines for this season and to refine her form and technique.

“The uncertainties of if and when things would progress to some form of normalcy was challenging. What helped me was shifting my focus and energy on the things within my control. Getting back into the gym and working on upgrading my routines and setting daily goals,” DiCello wrote.

The pandemic caused DiCello to miss the typical elite competition season and national team camps, where there is not just intensive training, but a chance for elite gymnasts to connect and bond.

When online school was in session, a typical day for DiCello began at 5 a.m. She ate a light breakfast before heading to her 6 a.m. practice, which ran until 10 a.m.

After practice, she took a virtual class from the gym, then drove home for lunch and to finish her remaining classes.

After that, she headed back to the gym for her two-hour afternoon practice.

At the end of the long day, DiCello turns back to her family, her strongest support system.

She sits down for family dinner, shares her thoughts and perspectives with her parents, and hangs out with her siblings — her older brother Hunter and two younger sisters, Karleigh and Kyra — between homework assignments.

She said her siblings help her get separation from gymnastics life. “My two sisters also do gymnastics, so they truly understand me and can provide the right level of comic relief when needed,” DiCello wrote.

On the weekends, DiCello is like any other teenager, squeezing in time with friends, going to the mall, hiking around Maryland and finishing homework.

At the Olympic trials this weekend, DiCello will draw upon her 15 years of gymnastics experience.

DiCello credits her coach, Kelli Hill, the owner and head coach of Hill’s Gymnastics, in forming her into the gymnast and person she is today. Hill supported, challenged and guided her.

“The experience and lessons I have learned through gymnastics and Kelli are so valuable and will benefit me well beyond gymnastics,” DiCello wrote.