Waubonsie grad Anna Li makes Olympic team as alternate
BY PAUL JOHNSON For Sun-Times Media July 2, 2012 6:12PM
Anna Li competes on the balance beam during the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team Trials in San Jose, Calif. | Ronald Martinez~Getty Images
Updated: August 4, 2012 6:26AM
Waubonsie Valley graduate Anna Li did her part on the uneven bars at the U.S. Olympic Trials at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., Sunday night.
Li wowed the crowd of 17,500 with her routine, which has the highest degree of difficulty of any current U.S. gymnast. Her score of 31.050 was third behind Gabby Douglas and Kyla Ross, who tied for first with matching scores of 31.150. She also competed in the balance beam.
But as has been the case for the 23-year-old throughout her comeback to elite gymnastics the past couple of years, there was no guarantee Li would be among the group headed to London for the Olympics.
“We were in the waiting room before they announced the team, and there were a lot of emotions,” Li said Monday. “It was an emotional roller coaster, a lot of tears.”
She had already overcome large odds just to reach the Trials, and said prior to the Trials that as long as she went out and performed the to the best of her abilities, she would be able to walk away from the sport with no regrets.
As it turned out, Li had one more surprise up her sleeve.
Li was named one of Team USA’s three alternates for the Olympic team, sending her to London for the Summer Olympics later this month. It caps an amazing journey that saw Li reach the pinnacle of her sport after nearly a lifetime of hard work.
“I just still can’t believe it,” Li said. “I’m just in shock and I’m so happy. I was just so proud to go out there and do the best I could. I was feeling good about how I did no matter what the outcome was. I knew if my name was called or not, I was going to feel good and have no regrets. When I heard my name called, I was in shock.”
After winning the 2010 NCAA team title at UCLA to cap a college career which saw her named an All-American eight times, Li walked away from the sport briefly for some acting and stunt work in Los Angeles before mounting a comeback for one last push toward the Olympics.
Li, the daughter of 1984 Chinese Olympic medalists Yuejiu Li and Jiani Wu, was an alternate for Team USA at the World Championships in Tokyo last fall, which gave her the opportunity to compete in the Olympic Trials.
After quickly rehabbing from foot surgery, Li still knew she was a longshot to be named to the team due to the fact that she specializes only in uneven bars these days. Gymnasts who are all-arounders are more likely to be chosen for the team due to the fact they can fill in for injured teammates in any event.
But Li is so strong on uneven bars, which happens to be considered Team USA’s weakest event, that she was given a chance to live her dream by being named an alternate for the Olympics. Now Li, who is eight years older than her youngest teammate — the 15-year-old Ross — is headed to London with the hopes that if she’s called upon, she’ll be ready to help Team USA win gold.
The other seven members of the team headed to London are between 15 and 18 years old, to put in perspective just how rare it is for a 23-year-old like Li to have this opportunity.
“I feel like any message I could give out is that I’m the oldest one here, and it’s really cool to think that I had a dream and I decided to go for it,” Li said. “I wanted to feel like I did everything I could to reach my dream. It’s so crazy and surreal. I don’t believe it still.”
Li said she received her itinerary for the rest of the summer before the confetti finished flying at HP Pavilion. In the meeting after the team was announced, Li said everybody will be headed home for a week before arriving at the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center at the Karolyi Ranch in Huntsville, Texas, to begin preparations for London.
Li worked longer and harder than any of the other seven girls headed to London, just in sheer age alone. Countless hours were spent training with her parents and at Legacy Elite Gymnastics to become a Level 10 and Elite gymnast. Four hard years at UCLA yielded one of the best careers in Bruins history. And her improbable comeback now has her on the way to London for the Olympics.
After a night to sleep on it, Li was relieved knowing that all of that hard work paid off.
“Everything was worth it,” Li said.