16 year old Grace McCallum is one of Team USA’s rising stars. For a member of the 2018 World Championships team who is one of the top candidates for the prospective Olympic team next year, McCallum has flown under the radar. That may change very quickly, however, with her coach Sarah Jantzi saying that if people really watched Grace “they would see how great she truly is and how much she has improved over the last year”. Jantzi went on to add that people seem to be underestimating her and are going to see “a gymnast coming out of nowhere”, confidently asserting that gymnastics fans will “see a new athlete that they haven’t seen.”

Coming off an extremely impressive performance at the US Classic, finishing third and just .2 out of second, McCallum is set to have a very successful 2019 season. Her solid showing at the US Classic is even more impressive when considering the circumstances. While many of the other top competitors were at near-peak form using the meet as a trial for the Pan American Games, Jantzi revealed that they were not even sure Grace “was going to do all-around at classics because of where we were at in our plan.” McCallum added in a full-in to her floor routine just a week prior to the competition and nailed it, as well as nailing a new Downie to pak salto combination on bars she “did not decide to compete until (she) was at the competition.” Being able to compete so well even with such new upgrades is an attribute that is extremely impressive but comes naturally for Grace, with Jantzi noting that she “is never worried about (Grace) going out and competing.”

Even more impressive upgrades are to come for Grace this season, as she hopes to debut a new bar combination- connecting a shaposh half to her Downie to Pak- and a double pike beam dismount at nationals. She also plans to compete “a double double off bars and a 2.5 twisting Yurchenko(an Amanar) on vault for worlds trials.” The addition of these upgrades, particularly the Amanar, would make her an even more compelling option for the World Championships team this fall and the Tokyo Olympics next year. Team USA currently only has a few gymnasts capable of safely completing an Amanar vault, and as it is also McCallum’s “dream skill to compete”, gymnastics fans should be sure to look out for that vault. 

Grace McCallum on beam at the 2018 U.S. Championships
Photo: Getty Images

What makes 16-year-old McCallum so special, in the words of her coach, is that she is “very steady.” Jantzi describes Grace as “not super emotional”, and says “she does not get worked up if something isn’t perfect,” adding that she is “easy to work with, super sweet, always super encouraging of the other kids”, and an “all-around really good kid.” The steadiness and consistency shown by McCallum are what make her such an asset on the international stage. Jantzi likened Grace’s competition attitude to that of Canadian gymnast Ellie Black’s, saying they both are “very steady, confident, nothing flashy, calm in high pressure situations, what you need on a team.” McCallum seems to enjoy these high-pressure competitions, saying all of her international assignments are “different and fun in their own ways”, adding that she “loves traveling around the world and meeting people from different countries competing for Team USA and getting to know her teammates really well.”

McCallum is a very strong competitor on all four events, which will likely prove to be very important in the Olympic selection process next year. With just a four-person team, all will likely be called on to do the all-around in the qualification round in Tokyo. One of the most improved events for Grace is the uneven bars, an event she willingly admits she “had to work very hard at” because she “was not always the best bar swinger. ” The improvement in both difficulty and execution is very apparent to anyone who has watched Grace over the years, and McCallum even cited bars as now being one of her favorite events to train. Grace’s goal for this season is to “make the national team and the World Championship team”, but “the biggest goal” is the Tokyo Olympics next summer. Her former teammate, Maggie Nichols, trained at the same gym and went through the Olympic cycle, even making the world championship team the year prior to the Olympics. Both of them share Jantzi as a coach, and have had similar career progressions up to this point. Jantzi noted that “neither were superstar juniors but have steadily climbed.” McCallum is very grateful for her coach’s experience, saying how nice it is to have a coach “who knows what to expect and how to pace me.”

After her elite career is over, Grace is committed to the University of Utah to compete in NCAA gymnastics. Besides the fact that “it felt like home right when (she) walked in”, Grace chose Utah because there are “really good academics there” and a lot of opportunities in the medical and sports fields, areas she says “I’ve always wanted to go into”, making the school the best all-around choice for her. Jantzi also mentioned that Grace is “always encouraging to everyone in the gym and out on the competition floor,” which perfectly suits Grace for the very team-oriented world of collegiate gymnastics. Like many young gymnasts, Grace grew up idolizing gymnasts like Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, and trained hard in hopes of following in their footsteps. Grace says she looks up to Shawn and Nastia because “they are both so powerful and elegant and well-rounded and good competitors,” a description that many little girls growing up could use to describe McCallum herself.  Though she might not realize it yet, Grace and her other Team USA teammates could very easily be the Shawn and Nastia to little girls who will be watching the 2020 Olympics in awe of the incredible gymnasts on their TV. For right now, however, she is just taking it one day at a time, working the same way she has her whole life. There is still a whole year until the Tokyo Olympics and many competitions to go, but the future looks extremely bright. 

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