P&G Gymnastics Championships: Underdogs lead junior women

This wasn’t where Jazmyn Foberg thought she would be, at least based on her more modest expectations.

The 14-year-old gymnast has had a promising junior career thus far, finishing fifth in the all-around three weeks ago at the Secret U.S. Classic, the kind of finish that gives her hope for an upcoming international career.

But to be in first place halfway through the junior women’s competition at the P&G Gymnastics Championships? Did that possibility ever cross her mind?

“Not really,” she said. “I was kind of surprised.”

The same could be said for Emily Gaskins. Like Foberg, Gaskins, a Florida native who trains in Cincinnati, has achieved modest success early in her career, but not the kind that would foretell a top-two finish in the sport’s national championship.

Yet, they are sitting atop a competition few expected them to win, including themselves. After a full day of events Thursday at Consol Energy Center, Foberg leads the all-around with a combined score of 57.6; Gaskins is close behind in second with 57 points.

“I didn’t really believe I was up there,” Gaskins said. “I was fighting and was always the underdog.

“I wasn’t expecting anything, but I’ve been working hard in the gym to try to get up there and try to get higher scores. I just did what I normally did and when I saw my name up there in second place, I was like ‘Oh my god.’ ”

Their performances place Foberg and Gaskins just above more established names such as Nia Dennis (third, 56.8) and Norah Flatley (fourth, 56.55).

Dennis led through two events after her performances on the floor routine and vault, both of which saw her record the highest score of all participants. But then she fell to her knees on her dismount on the uneven bars and later fell off the balance beam, errors that ended up costing her.

“In practice, I can do them really well and when I’m in my comfort zone, it just comes really easily,” Dennis said. “Sometimes, the nerves just get to you.”

Given that disparity displayed by Dennis and other gymnasts, it was Foberg’s consistency that partially helped set her apart. The difference between her lowest score (14.2 on the beam) and highest score (14.6 on the vault) was the smallest of any competitor in the top 10 of the all-around.

Additionally, Foberg is in the top four in three of the four events.

Gaskins and Alexis Vasquez posted the highest scores on the beam (14.7), while Flatley leads all competitors on the uneven bars (14.45).

Victoria Nguyen, who is 17th in the all-around, tied Dennis for the highest score on the floor routine (14.5).

Getting to the top of the all-around standings was undoubtedly a tough task for Foberg and Gaskins, but remaining there with another full day of events to go Saturday could prove to be the greater challenge.

Though a situation like that would seemingly bring pressure, there’s a comfort that comes with the two gymnasts knowing they’re halfway to an accomplishment that appeared to be a dream weeks ago.

“You just have a big relief,” Gaskins said. “It’s not ‘Oh my god, I messed up, I really have to work for it now and I have to hit on all four events.’

“Obviously, you have to hit, but it takes a big stress off you and you feel a lot more confident going into the second day. But you can’t feel overconfident, because it won’t go well. You just have to stay steady.”

•NOTE — Christina Desiderio is in 11th in the all-around, the highest place for any member of the Parkettes based in Allentown, Pa. Her teammate, Megan Freed, is three places behind her and tied for sixth in the vault, 0.7 points behind Dennis, the event’s leader.

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.

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