PITTSBURGH — In May, Medfield’s Addison Chung could say he was one of the best 14-year-old gymnasts in the country. He dominated the Level 9 Junior Olympic Nationals that month, finishing in the top 15 of every apparatus, including a second-place finish in the all-around. Most gymnasts in his grips would have spent the summer training and easing their way into Level 10 and elite gymnastics.
Chung would have none of that.
With the coaching of Levon Karakhanyan of Westwood’s New England Sports Academy, Chung ramped up his difficulty in short order and traveled to July’s USA Gymnastics national qualifier in Colorado Springs, Colo., to see if he could make the elite national championships. With routines and skills learned in a mere six weeks’ time, Chung finished eighth all-around in the meet, qualifying for this weekend’s U.S. Gymnastics Championships here at Consol Energy Center. He will compete in the junior men’s division tomorrow and Sunday.
“In a short period of time, we prepared him with different routines and an increased difficulty,” Karakhanyan said. “For him, just being here in Pittsburgh is an achievement.”
Said Chung: “I would have liked to train a little more. We fit in what we could with the weeks we had. I’m going to come here and hit what I can.”
The hope of Chung and his coach is that this trip to the nationals can be used as a dry run for 2015, the year Chung initially had planned on making the elite level.
“One of the positive things about making it a year early is that there is not a lot of pressure on him,” said Karakhanyan, who has coached Chung for nine years. “We can compare his strengths against the strongest Level 10 boys there are in the nation.”
Chung is still working on increasing the difficulty factor of his routines, but he demonstrates solid fundamentals. He will compete a full-twisting layout Yurchenko on vault — his best event — this weekend. At yesterday’s training, Chung hit clean parallel bars work that impressed his fellow gymnasts, despite the nervousness that comes from taking a big stage for the first time.
“It’s overwhelming,” Chung said. “I’ve only seen this in pictures, and now I’m here.”
Joining Chung in the junior men’s division this weekend are two gymnasts from Western Massachusetts: West Brookfield’s Eric Klein and East Longmeadow’s Peter Daggett. Both are coached by a legendary figure in local and national gymnastics: 1984 Olympic gold medalist-turned-NBC commentator Tim Daggett, Peter’s father.
The elder Daggett admits coaching his teenage son on the elite level is not always easy.
“It’s impossible to really separate out between the gym and home,” Tim Daggett said. “I want to be a successful coach and he wants to be a successful athlete. When he has a bad practice, you can’t get in the car together and just say, ‘Well, how was school today, Peter?’
“You both have to be willing to cut each other some slack.”
Neither father nor son is looking to cut any slack performance-wise at the nationals. The Daggetts and Klein hold the same goal for the weekend: place in the top 10 and make the junior national team for the coming season.
The other aim of Daggett’s charges is to further build their gymnastics resumes for the college recruitment process, which begins immediately following the championships. Both are on the radar of several Division 1 programs.
Chung, Daggett and Klein are all pleased to add to the long, but oft-overlooked, history of successful men’s gymnastics in Massachusetts.
“I’ve grown up in this sport, and it’s important for me to see the legacy continue,” Peter Daggett said. “It’s a pretty awesome feeling to continue this.”