THIS Filipino athlete has left the Malaysian artistic gymnastics squad set to compete in the 31st Vietnam Southeast Asian shaking in its collective leotards. And no, it wasn’t two-time world champion Carlos Edriel Yulo.
The cause for grave concern for the Malaysians is Alea Finnegan, who used to compete for the US national women’s artistic gymnastics squad and will make her debut for the Philippines as the SEA Games gymnastics meet kicks off on Friday, May 13.
A varsity mainstay at Louisiana State University, Finnegan, 19, won a team gold medal for the US at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, and boasts impressive credentials that make her one of the country’s athletes to watch in Vietnam aside from Yulo.
Her presence on the national squad has left the Malaysians, who monopolized the women’s artistic gymnastics event with four of the five golds at stake in the 30th Philippine Games pretty worried, the Star in Malaysia reported on its website last April 8.
The Malaysians will be without its two stars – Farah Ann Abdul Hadi, a triple gold medalist in the 2019 SEA Games, and women’s balance beam champion Tracie Ang, who have both retired – the report said.
Gymnastics Association Philippines deputy secretary-general Rowena Eusuya credits GAP president Cynthia Carrion for wooing the top caliber gymnast to represent the country of her mother Linabelle, who was born and raised in the Philippines before moving over to Uncle Sam country.
“Her (Finnegan’s) playing even became a discussion with the International Gymnastics Federation Executive Committee before it happened,” Eusuya said.
Carrion also played a critical role in the decision of the world gymnastics body – more known for its French name Federation Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) – since she is a close acquaintance of FIG president Morinari Watanabe of Japan on top of being a member of the FIG Council, according to the GAP official.
Watanabe attended the opening of the new GAP national training center in Intramuros last March.
“Both athlete and her mother will be leaving this coming week for the Vietnam SEA Games and then head back for Manila so she can train for a while and be immersed with the other national athletes,” Eusuya said.
Finnegan was born in St. Louis Missouri and gymnastics runs in the family, with elder sister Sara having also donned the US colors and served as an alternate on the US team in the 2012 London Olympics.
The pert and pretty gymnast is proud of her Filipino heritage, and was quoted as saying in an interview on the FloGymnastics.com in 2020 that she was inspired when she saw Yulo on video bagging a bronze medal in the men’s floor exercise the 2018 world meet in Doha, Qatar.
“It was such a special moment, because I was just like, ‘This is so awesome,’” the report said. “Filipino gymnasts don’t get a lot of recognition, especially competing for the Philippines, and I think that was so awesome, and I’m so proud of him (Yulo).”
She is now poised to make sports history for the Philippines on her own, a chance to be in the personal spotlight after being overshadowed on the star-studded US squad in the past led by the phenomenal world and Olympic champion Simone Biles.
If her personal bests and performances in 2021 were to be the gauge, Finnegan would have dominated the 2019 30th SEA Games women’s artistic tournament held at the historic Rizal Memorial Coliseum had she been a part of the national squad then.
She has top individual scores of 14.250 points on the vault, 13.350, uneven bars; 13.550, balance beam; 13.500, floor exercise; and 54.150 in the all-around events.
The 5-foot-4 sprite was fifth overall at the US GK Classic held from May 21 to 22, 2021 in Indianapolis that was topped by Biles.
Her scores were 14.250 points in the vault, 13.200, uneven bars; 13.40, balance beam; 13.300, floor exercise, on the way to an all-around score of 54.150.
Finnegan was likewise 23rd overall at the US Championships held June 3 to 6, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas with scores of 14.000, 13.350, 13.550, 12.600 and 53.500 in the vault, uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise and all-around, respectively.
In comparison, Malaysian 2019 SEA Games triple gold medalist Farah Ann Abdul Hadi had scores of 48.050 in the women’s all-around, 12.366 in the uneven bars and 12.600 in the floor exercise.
Indonesia’s Rifda Irfanalufthfi topped the vault event with a score of 13.484 points while Malaysia’s Tracie Ang had a tally of 12.867 in the balance beam.
Carrion said that the Vietnam SEA Games was just the first of several other international tournaments that she hopes Finnegan will compete for the Philippines.
She said that the athlete will also see action for the country in the Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships scheduled June 15 to 18 in Doha, Qatar, the continental qualifying meet for the 41st FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Liverpool, England in late October.