This Kansas City area gym sent 3 athletes to world championships. The Paris Olympics could be next
Aleah Finnegan, Leanne Wong, and Lynnzee Brown all trained at Great American Gymnastics Express, known as GAGE, in Blue Springs. One of them has already qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
Three gymnasts made local history when they converged at the world championships in Belgium this week. They all have roots at the same Kansas City-area gym.
Aleah Finnegan, Leanne Wong and Lynnzee Brown sprang from Great American Gymnastics Express in Blue Springs. Two of them made a big splash at the 2023 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Antwerp, and one qualified for the Olympics.
“It’s really special to see all of them here. It’s really exciting,” said Finnegan, 20. The Lee’s Summit native is now a gymnast on the Louisiana State University women’s team.
Finnegan qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics based on her fifth-place finish among athletes whose countries don’t participate in team events. Finnegan will represent the Philippines, where her mother was born and Aleah first visited at age 5.
“I have the opportunity to represent them and I really want to make sure I’m making them proud,” said Finnegan. “(I’m) really appreciating where our family heritage has come from. We’re really blessed here in the States, but it’s really important to look back on that.”
Because of foot injuries, Finnegan missed an opportunity to make the U.S. team ahead of the Tokyo Olympics — a heartbreaking disappointment.
“My whole life, ever since I was 5, I calculated the age range — what age I’d be eligible to go to the Olympics — and it was 2020,” she said. “Always had my mind and my heart set on that.”
Then, because of COVID-19, the Olympics were postponed and held a year later. Finnegan’s foot problem persisted and she arrived at LSU on crutches.
The Gymnastics Association of Philippines reached out to Finnegan in 2021 because her older sister, Hannah, competed for the country 10 years earlier.
Still, Finnegan had to qualify for the world championships in Antwerp through Asian competition in Singapore.
“I had a lot of hoops that I had to leap through to get to where I am today, but I’m really proud of myself,” she said.
Her mother, Linabelle, is proud, too. She said she couldn’t sleep the night after her daughter qualified for the Paris Olympics.
“(It’s) everyone’s dream,” Linabella Finnegan said. “The family’s dream.”
“I kept on thinking of her dad, because he did do a lot of sacrifice,” she said.
Don Finnegan, a wrestler on the NCAA champion Iowa State team in 1977, died of cancer in 2019.
Now an SEC rival of Finnegan’s at the University of Florida, Wong won gold in Antwerp as a member of the U.S. team, anchored by the great Simone Biles. The Americans won their seventh team title in a row.
Wong was scheduled to compete in one apparatus the final night of women’s team competition at the Artistic World Championships. Teammate Joscelyn Roberson injured an ankle in pre-competition warmups and was sidelined.
“So I had to get up there,” said Wong. “I couldn’t do it without these teammates and coaches who kept reminding me that I’ve been trained for this and I could do it.”
Wong ended up competing in two additional events, the vault and floor exercise. Her execution on the vault during the first rotation turned out to be a key moment in helping the USA women keep their team streak going.
Wong, an all-around silver medalist at the 2021 world championships, made the U.S. Olympic team for Tokyo, but was unable to compete after being exposed to a teammate with COVID-19.
After the collegiate gymnastics season, Wong will return to elite training with an eye toward qualifying for the Paris Olympics at the U.S. team trials in June 2024.
The third member of the power trio is Lynnzee Brown, a newly-hired assistant coach for Penn State University’s women’s team. Brown competed at Denver University.
University of Missouri alumnus Sarah Shire Brown hired Lynnzee Brown at PSU. Shire Brown, too, is a former GAGE athlete.
“There’s a giant poster of me in the gym, which is awkward,” said Brown Shire sheepishly. “But Lynnzee always says seeing my face feels like home because … my banner was always up.”
Brown, who competed for Haiti, did not score high enough at the world championships to qualify for the Paris Olympics. She’ll take another shot at the Pan American games this fall in Chile.
Finnegan, meanwhile, is hoping for a reunion in 2024 — in Paris.
“I think that these girls are very hard-working,” she said. “There are some gymnasts who are more talented than others. At the end of the day, it’s not about talent. It’s just about how hard you work, how bad you want it.”
“I’m really excited to see how far these girls go,” she said.