by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
How much better can your year get, after winning your second straight national championship?
Well, for gymnastics phenom Jessie DeZiel of Rogers, the year 2011 indeed keeps improving by leaps and bounds.
Since repeating as USA all-around gold medalist at Long Beach, CA, in May, the Nebraska recruit earned Elite status in early July at Houston, meaning she can now compete against Olympians and Olympic hopefuls.
She did just that while passing another test, at the Cover Girl Classic in Chicago last weekend, to stay in the running for a spot on a national team.
“It’s very exciting,” acknowledged DeZiel in a break for an interview Thursday at Twin Cities Twisters, her longtime club in Champlin. “My goal now is to compete at the Pan Am Games. If I can do that, I’ll have to start later at Nebraska, in January.”
Next stop is the VISA Championships, this one close to home, at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, Aug. 17-20. At stake there is a spot on the USA team for the Pan American Games in Mexico, slated for Oct. 14-20.
“I’m going train hard to do well in the Visa’s,” she said. “I have to impress Marta. If I do, she’ll ask me to train with her and come to her camp in Houston.”
That would be Marta Karolyi, wife of Bela Karolyi, the famed coach of nine individual gold medalists and a USA team champion in the Olympics. Marta is national team coordinator.
So far, not a bad summer for the 17-year-old who graduated from Spectrum High School this spring with a 3.81 GPA and has only a vague idea of her future – “maybe nursing, or physical therapy” – other than gymnastics.
DeZiel won the USA Gymnastics Senior C championship May 14-15 in Long Beach, racking up a 38.825 while winning floor exercise and placing second in vault, third (tied) in uneven bars and fifth on balance beam.
“She was fantastic,” exulted Dan Kendig, who coaches one of the nation’s top programs at Nebraska and has added a blue-chip recruit. “We’ve had our eye on this young lady for a long time, and we are very excited that she’ll be joining us at Nebraska.”
That score topped the 38.10 she earned in winning the 2010 title in Dallas where she also won bars. Her best-ever score so far is 38.90 in state competition this past March 19 at North St. Paul.
After nationals, USA Gymnastics approached her and “kind of invited me” to try for Elite status. Having been Level 10 for five years, the highest rung other than Elite, she decided to go for it. After punching up her beam skills including a kick-over pike, and adding another tumbling pass on floor, DeZiel delivered the goods at Houston and was one of the tiny percentage of gymnasts welcomed into Elite.
At the Covergirl Classic in Chicago, July 21-23, taking on the likes of Olympians Shawn Johnson and Alicia Sacramone, and American Cup champ Jordyn Wieber, DeZiel had the 13th-best total score among 24, competing in only three of the events.
“That was good,” she said. “I only did three events.”
She placed third in vault, with a Yurchenka double twist, which she thinks is probably her most crowd-pleasing move; and placed sixth on floor and 14th on beam (ties in both cases) while skipping bars.
DeZiel credits her longtime coach at Twin Cities Twisters, Mike Hunger, as a big part of her success.
“He is always positive in the gym, always making you do better,” she said.
DeZiel started gymnastics at age 3, along with her sister Brittany, who’s two years older and now competes with a strong UW-Stout team. She has been with Twisters since she was five. A typical week is five-hour days Monday through Thursday, three hours on Friday.
Despite 15 years in one of the most rigorous of sports, the 5-foot-4, 115-pound athlete has never been sidelined by injury. “Pretty lucky,” she grins.
DeZiel tried one other sport, softball, in fourth and fifth grade. She was a pitcher. “I liked softball, a lot,” she said. “But I had to choose.” Obviously that one was a no-brainer.
THE DEZIEL SCORECARD
Personal file – Age: 17 … Family: parents Craig and Jean; sister Tiffany, 19 … Sport: gymnastics … Home: Rogers … High school: Spectrum, 2011 graduate … Academics: 3.81 GPA …. College plans: Nebraska, gymnatics, major undecided
Favorite stuff – Class: math … TV show: “American Idol” … Movie: “The Last Song” … Class: math … Music: Taylor Swift … Team: Twins … Athletes: Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin … Food: sausage pizza … Drink: Powerade