Jayla Hang beam routine highlights exciting start to USA Gymnastics Core Classic in Hartford

The superstars at the USA Gymnastics 2024 Core Hydration Classic wouldn’t begin competing until late Saturday evening, but the XL Center was was already brimming with energy for the first session in the afternoon.

The lower bowl of the arena was practically full for the 2 p.m. start, a brightly colored patchwork of local youth gymnastics teams in matching outfits cheering for the up-and-coming athletes. The 50 senior athletes registered for the classic were divided into two sessions based on performance at past USA Gymnastics competitions. The Core Classic is gymnasts’ final opportunity to post qualifying scores for the 2024 U.S. Gymnastics Championships from May 30-June 2. The championship serves as the final qualifying event for Olympic Trials on June 22.

The highlight of the session was a nearly-flawless performance on the balance beam from Jayla Hang, a 16-year-old from Bellevue, Washington, that earned a 13.900, though she was already qualified. Her score than three-tenths ahead of the next closest result on the apparatus. Hang said her routine was particularly gratifying as a rebound from a fall on the uneven bars in her previous rotation.

“Coming from bars and going to beam and hitting a really clean routing, I was really proud of that,” Hang said. “I was just trying to forget about it and put it in the past, because I can’t do anything to change that. I could only make it better and turn my around by hitting a great beam routine, and I think I did that.”

Hartford is no stranger to elite gymnastics, though the 2024 Core Classic marked the first USA Gymnastics event in the city since the 2016 U.S. Classic and senior men’s U.S. Championships in 2016. The XL Center also previously hosted the USA Gymnastics Championships in 2013 and 2010.

CaMarah Williams, a 16-year-old from Kansas City, was nervous competing for the first time at Core Classic this year, but she said the energy in the arena helped her settle in. A group of young fans counted down, then screamed in unison from the stands “You slayed that CaMarah!” after she executed her routine on the uneven bars without a major error. Though a low difficulty score relative to her competition dropped her from second in the all-around to sixth entering her final rotation, it was Williams’ favorite performance of the day.

“The fans give me a little bit of a confidence boost, so I really like having the crowd out there,” Williams said. “I feel great. I made a bar routine, and that’s all that matters, for real … I was just trying to have fun, because when you have fun everything goes smoother and gets you less tense.”

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Hang was seventh in the all-around after the early session, but she also recorded the highest score of the group on vault with a 13.950. Marissa Neal and Evelynn Lowe from Great American Gymnastics Center (GAGE) in Blue Springs, Missouri led the all-around scores after the first session. GAGE also produced 2021 Olympic alternate Leanne Wong and Kara Eaker.

Wong would also compete at the Core Classic in the second session alongside multiple fellow Olympians and World medalists. The field included three Olympic all-around gold medalists for the first time in gymnastics history: 2012 champion Gabby Douglas, 2016 champion Simone Biles and 2021 champion Sunisa Lee.

Neal, 17, overtook the 16-year-old Lowe, who led after three rotations, on the uneven bars. She tied with four others for the best score on the event with a 13.550, while Lowe missed a connection that dropped her to a 12.600. Both Neal and Lowe competed at the Core Classic in 2023 and improved dramatically this year. Neal’s all-around score of 52.950 would have placed in the top 10 among all seniors in 2023 and was nearly two full points higher than her score the previous year. Lowe also improved by more than a full point with her 52.700.

“I was a little nervous coming out here, but I think I handled it pretty well and performed well under pressure,” Lowe said. “I loved the crowd. It makes me feel like I can do it, because there’s just something about having people watching that makes me go.”