On Saturday, Chicago will play host to several tiny, world-class athletes.
The Secret Classic at UIC Pavilion will feature female gymnasts like reigning Olympic all-around champ Nastia Liukin, reigning world champ Jordyn Wieber and local star Anna Li. Only five athletes will advance to national qualifiers.
For Liukin, it will be her first time competing since stepping away from the sport in 2009. Her comeback was announced at last year's event in Chicago, and she will be showing off a new routine on the balance beam. She became a star after her memorable performance in 2008, but will face tough competition just to make this year's team.
“I don’t have any advantages by being the Olympic all-around champion going into these games. No one’s going to give you higher scores, no one’s going to be nicer or play fairer,” Liukin said to the Associated Press.
Wieber is one of those young guns Liukin has to compete with for a spot on the team. The reigning world champion led the U.S. women to a team title at the 2011 world championships. She is known to be steady on every single event, and puts up huge numbers on every apparatus.
Li, from Naperville, is competing after a successful collegiate career at UCLA. As a strong competitor on the uneven bars, Li will try to make a mark in the event the U.S. has traditionally struggled with.
Fans of the Olympics are encouraged to attend the live event to get a taste of the competition in person.
Getting to London, Sochi, Rio de Janeiro or any other exotic locale that hosts the Olympics can be both difficult and expensive, so local qualifiers provide an accessible opportuinity.