What's Next For Leanne Wong And Kayla DiCello?
What's Next For Leanne Wong And Kayla DiCello?
Leanne Wong and Kayla DiCello reflect on their Olympics and World experiences, heading to Florida, and more.
A conversation with Leanne Wong and Kayla DiCello, where they reflect on their Olympics and World experiences, heading to Florida, and more.
*These interviews have been edited for length, clarity, and were originally done as separate interviews.
FloGymnastics: First of all, congratulations on everything you've accomplished these past few months, from being alternates at the Olympics to medaling at Worlds, and now Kayla signing with Florida and Leanne heading into her first year of NCAA competition. How have you been feeling these past few months with how busy you've been?
Leanne Wong: It's definitely been pretty overwhelming and just really quick with things, like after the Olympics and just coming back and getting my routines together after the quarantine and getting ready for the World Championships and then coming back for a week and then leaving for college after.
Kayla DiCello: Thank you! I've been really happy with these past few months and everything that I've accomplished, with going to Tokyo and being able to be one of the replacement athletes, and being ready to step in if I needed to, and going to Worlds and competing and being an all-around medalist. And then signing to Florida, it just made everything seem like all the hard work that I've been doing was paying off.
Flo: So let's start with Olympic trials. Leanne, for anyone who watched Olympic trials, it was impossible to miss the fire you came back with in day two after falling on day one. How did day one fuel your day two competition from your perspective?
LW: Well, it honestly probably put off the pressure, because I mean, on one side, I felt like it was over. There's no way I could even make the alternate team or anything, but then also I kind of felt like, well, I can't just give up now. You just have to forget what happened that day and do the best you can on the second day and just hope for the best.
Flo: How did that second day feel to you?
LW: That second day was just a really fun experience and I was really glad. I was able to see myself compete to that ability and it just really helped me feel confident for the next upcoming meet. So after that, it was just in the back of my mind, thinking about the World Championships and thinking about where I was at that point, the possibilities of going to World Championships.
Flo: Yeah. And then the iconic moment of being on the floor and being named as an alternate to the Olympic team, how did that feel?
LW: I was still pretty happy just to be on the team and at least be an alternate. Of course that was my ultimate goal to be on the four person team. But everything didn’t go as planned on the first day and I just got the best outcome for my performance.
Flo: Kayla, at Olympic Trials, after a really solid performance besides the fall on bars during day two of competition, you were named an alternate to the Olympic team. How did that moment feel?
KD: I was really excited to be going to Tokyo, but I was also a little disappointed that I fell on bars, and I could have made the team, possibly, if I had just stayed on the bar. But I was still really excited.
Flo: Leanne, your floor routine is well-loved by gymnastics fans and it gained a lot of attention during the Olympic trials, a lot of people were talking about it. How do you feel about your current floor routine?
LW: I really liked my new floor routine and the attention it gained especially after having my old floor routine since level 8. It was nice to have a new routine with new dance and music to perform to the audience.
Flo: During your Olympic experience in Japan, a teammate had tested positive for COVID, so you had to quarantine. Can you share a little bit of what that was like?
LW: Yeah, it was pretty disappointing since I just got there and it was like maybe two or three days, just a few workouts and then she tested positive and then we were both quarantined and then it was pretty disappointing and stressful at the same time and because I was getting tested like everyday still, in order to go home. They were saying after five days I was supposed to go back to practice or just fly home, but then the airlines said we can't fly home until 14 days of quarantine. So I ended up not going home and then ended up not practicing. So I just sat there in my hotel room, the whole time.
Flo: I know you just shared and you've shared on your Instagram before that you felt a little bit disappointed with your Olympic experience. How did you channel that disappointment into training and competing for Worlds?
LW: I really just took that time that I was there and just kind of got myself physically and mentally ready, just to go back home and train and work to make the World Championship team that I'd actually get to compete in instead of just sit there on the chair.
Flo: Kayla, when you went to the Olympic Games, some teammates were quarantined due to testing positive for COVID or being close contacts, but you were able to train the entire time. What was your favorite part of your Olympic experience in Japan?
KD: Mine would honestly be just being able to leave the hotel and the bus rides. Just seeing Japan and the culture, it was nice.
Flo: That's awesome. And then after the Olympic games, you went to Florida for a well-deserved break. How was your time off before returning back to the gym?
KD: It was good. It was a lot of fun, and I was able to heal up some of my body that was a little sore.
Flo: That's great. Are you dealing with any injuries right now?
KD: No, I'm feeling pretty good.
Flo: After coming home from the Olympics, what made you choose to try for Worlds, or when did you make that decision?
KD: I feel like I kind of made that decision late, but I decided to go for Worlds because after the Olympics, I knew that I still had some in me to go and keep competing. And I knew that there weren't as many seniors as before, but I just knew that, if I gave it a shot, there was a chance I could make the team.
Flo: While you were training, other gymnasts that you’re friends with were on the Gold Over America tour, or going on to college, so what motivated you during that time period?
KD: Just to do this for myself and to just show that I can be a good gymnast and put in good scores for Team USA after just being an alternate at the Olympics.
Flo: Yeah. So, then, after a standout performance at World Trial Selection Camp, you were selected for the Worlds team. How did that feel and what were your goals going into the competition?
KD: Being selected for the Worlds team, it was amazing. I was so happy and I was so proud of myself in World Trials and how I did. And going into Worlds, I was pretty much just focusing on trying to hit all my routines and place as well as I could. I'd always hoped to make finals for the three events, besides vault, since I didn't have a second vault, and to make all-around finals. And just to show people what I could do.
Flo: So how did it feel for each of you to go back to Japan, to compete at Worlds after experiencing international travel once before in the pandemic?
LW: It was a little nerve-wracking since I knew going back to the same place. And I was just afraid that I would, I don't know, not be able to work out or compete again, just because of COVID, but I was really thankful that I was able to compete and didn't have any of those issues.
KD: It was kind of the same. We were still under the same rules and we couldn't go outside really, and we had to stay in our hotel rooms, we could stay on the floor. But I feel like this time, they scheduled a day where we could go out to the park. And being able to go out to the park was really nice because we could go out and enjoy the fresh air. And there were swings and there was this obstacle course we could go on.
Flo: So Leanne, at Worlds, you brought home the silver all-around and the bronze medal on floor. Can you tell me how those performances felt for you and how it felt to take home those medals?
LW: Yeah. I was just really happy just to win those medals, because that was my ultimate goal, just to perform to the best of my ability and come home with a medal. So I was just really happy after the all-around medal when I won my first World Championship medal.
Flo: Kayla, at Worlds, you brought home the bronze all-around medal. How did it feel to take home that medal?
KD: It felt amazing. Just being able to show off all my hard work that I've been doing and to have something that represents it.
Flo: During the all-around competition, you came back from a fall on bars to show a really solid beam and floor performance. How did you come back mentally from that fall?
KD: Well, I knew that I couldn't focus on the fall, and after I fell on that bar routine, I knew that I had to make the rest of the bar as perfect as I can so that I could still get a pretty decent score, and stay up at the top of the all-around. And tell myself that just happened, but I don't have to worry about that. Just focus on the next thing that I was about to compete.
Flo: Overall, how did you feel about your performance at Worlds?
KD: I was proud of my performance, but I know that I could do a little bit better on bars during all-around finals, and during beam finals. But pretty much, besides that, I was really proud of how I did.
Flo: Leanne, you’re training at Florida now. Do you plan to continue your elite career at all or focus on NCAA?
LW: Yeah, right now I'm just focusing on college gymnastics and just getting everything ready for the season. But I think it's still in the back of my mind. I mean, Paris is like three years away. So I have some time to think about it and decide what I want to do.
Flo: Kayla, when will you be officially joining Florida?
KD: I'll be joining, I think in the summer of 2022, or in the fall.
Flo: Until that time, what is your plan for elite? Do you have any goals for the next few months?
KD: Just to compete and just keep showing off my skills that I have.
Flo: When you head to Florida next summer or fall, do you plan to continue training or competing elite, during or after your time at NCAA?
KD: I'm not really sure, but I haven't completely closed the door. So, I don't know yet.
Flo: This Worlds competition, the U.S. had a team full of competitors who had not competed at Worlds before as seniors. How did it feel to be out there for your first senior Worlds on the team and also be surrounded by teammates experiencing their first time as well?
LW: Yeah. I thought it was really great just to have all of us in the same boat. So we're all just experiencing it together and just going through it all together.
KD: It felt really great. And I think we honestly did a really good job with that, and just setting a good tone for the rest of the quad and the new generation that's coming up.
Flo: Yeah. Did you feel like anyone took more of a leadership role on the team?
LW: No. I think we're all about the same. We're just kind of leading our own gymnastics and just doing our jobs individually to help the team.
Flo: This Worlds team was also a team made up of all people of color. Did the team realize that? And what does that mean to you, if so?
KD: I never really thought about that, but I just think that's pretty great because it just shows that there's a lot of diversity and that everyone can do anything.
Flo: Definitely! From the last year or so of competition, what do you feel the most proud of?
LW: Probably the World Championship competition. I think it's just a good note to end on.
Flo: So during your elite career, you've had so many life changing memorable experiences. What would you say your favorite moment is from your whole gymnastics career so far?
KD: I actually feel the most proud of this World Championships, and being able to come home with a bronze medal in the all-around.
LW: Probably the World Championships. Because that was just like the biggest meet and all the countries were there. It's just a really great experience.
Flo: Yeah. Well I have to tell you, Leanne, I interviewed you in October of 2020 and asked that same question and your answer at the time was your senior debut at the American Cup. So it's so fun to see how far you've come since then and how that answer has changed.
LW: Oh yeah.
Flo: How do you both feel like you've changed as a person the past year or so?
LW: I've actually kind of learned just to be looser in competitions and not be so nervous and tight. So I don't know, I think it's just better to just have fun and not stress about things too much. It’s like when you’re first in elite, you're like, oh my gosh, I'm in the elite world. It's so much bigger and I don't know, just competing at the level that you can be to make the Olympics. So it just feels like a different world.
KD: I feel like I've started to really understand more about calming myself down. I also think I've learned to really believe in myself, because I would struggle sometimes. I struggled sometimes in the past year and a half through COVID and everything. And I think that I just had to believe in myself and not have any doubt. Because when I had doubt, then everything went downhill a little bit.
Flo: What made you both ultimately decide on Florida when you picked where to go to school?
LW: Well, I just thought the academic program was really strong and they’re like the top five public university in the nation and then I also just really like the coaches and the gymnastics group.
KD: I always loved Florida, and when I went to the school and I visited it, just the atmosphere that I saw, like practice and how the team is so close. And I like that they're high up in education, which is what I wanted, so that I could get a good education and do gymnastics at a high school, too. And I just loved everything about it, and it felt like it could be my home.
Flo: So Leanne, I know that you went to Florida right after coming home from Worlds. How has your time been at college so far?
LW: It's been really fun. Well all my classes are online still. So school is about the same for me. But I just don’t do much so just doing my online classes like regular and then I go to the gym and we do weight trainings that are different from what we used to do at the gym.
Flo: Have you picked a major yet?
LW: No, not yet, but I'm kind of on a pre-med track and like the general courses and just the requirements.
Flo: Very cool. So then as far as gymnastics goes and training with the team. What's your favorite thing about training at Florida so far?
LW: I just like how it's more of like a, ‘just to do what you need to do and get everything done and just be efficient’ and then your practice is over. You don't really have a set time where you have to use up all the time and you have to stay for the entire practice and just keep going over and over and over.
Flo: And what would you say the biggest differences are so far like training at college versus training at your home gym?
LW: It's definitely different, in college it's more about doing what you can so you can someday score a 10. But then at the club it's more like we train harder skills and try to get your difficulty really high and also have good execution. Over here, it's just like a lot less skills and just being clean and perfect.
Flo: That's what I was going to ask about next - do you know yet which skills you're planning on keeping in your routines or if you're planning on taking anything out?
LW: I haven't really decided that yet, because I'm still kind of like getting used to all the equipment at the gym and just doing my skills. So I haven't really decided what skills I'm doing yet. Just still putting that together.
Flo: Florida has an extremely talented freshman class coming in this year. I know not everyone is there just yet, but how has it been hanging out with the other freshmen so far?
LW: It's definitely been really fun since we've all been, some of us have been in the elite world, so we know what it's like and coming here and it's just a lot different and we're all just having a lot of fun together.
Flo: That's awesome. So, of course the whole team will get super close as time goes on, but are there any current or future gators that you knew pretty well right now?
LW: No, I didn't really know anybody really well, but of course I knew Trinity, because she went to some of the national team training camps that I was also at, and like Classics and Championships. So I would say she was pretty much only one I think, that I knew the most.
KD: Yeah, I do, actually. Well, I'm pretty close with most of them. For '23, one of my teammates is committed there, Anya Pilgrim. I’m excited for that.
Flo: What are you most excited about for your time at Florida?
KD: I'm excited for competing in the O Dome, with all the fans and having a Gator chomp in my floor routine.
LW: I'm just looking forward to the competitions. Because I've always loved competing, so I know it's going to be hard like every week, but I think it'll be really fun.
Flo: Leanne, what are your personal goals for this season in NCAA?
LW: While I am at Florida, I want to help contribute to the team as much as possible, win National Championships, and score some tens!
Flo: Does Florida have any team goals for the season?
LW: Probably to win the national championship, but that's not till the end of season, so we haven't really talked about that yet.
Flo: So then I have to ask, you're known for your signature bows that you wear during competition. Do you plan to wear those while competing at college as well?
LW: I think so, probably. I have to figure out which colors and there's only a couple colors for each college though. Just see what everyone matches up with the leos and stuff.
Flo: Kayla, if you’ve thought this far ahead, do you have any personal goals for your freshman year of college gymnastics?
KD: I would say just probably to hopefully compete in the all-around and help contribute to the team in the best way that I can. And hopefully Florida wins the national championship.
Flo: I saw John Cheng post photos he took at your gym, and saw one that is a photo of you recently side by side with an older photo of you.
KD: Yeah. It was a picture from 2011.
Flo: And he put it side by side with the one from recently. I've seen a lot of people just reacting to that and saying it's really cool. How did that picture make you feel?
KD: It made me feel happy because I'd come a long way from then. And I loved the picture, and I thought it was so cute.
Flo: That's awesome. Did you know he was doing that?
KD: No, I had no clue.
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