Getty Images for USOC
Gymnast Anna Li poses for a portrait during the USOC Portrait Shoot at Smashbox West Hollywood on November 16, 2011 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images for USOC)
In a sport filled with 16 and 17-year-olds, Anna Li is an anomaly. The 23-year-old gymnast from Naperville has already graduated from UCLA and is making another attempt at making the Olympics.
Part of that journey will take place at the U.S. Classic at UIC Pavilion on Saturday.
Though Li acknowledges she is older than her competitors, she also sees the upside in her age.
"There is a pro and a con to it. Yes, I'll be 24 soon, and the other girls are 15, 16 years old, but I feel like I have a lot of experience. Competing at NCAAs for four years in a row gives me a lot more competitive experience. We competed back-to-back, every weekend, every year. It's collegiate experience, but I have elite experience as well. There's an advantage to being older," Li told NBC Chicago.
To make the Olympic team, Li will need every advantage she can get. Only five gymnasts will make the team, and the U.S. is more stacked than ever. Li was on the team that won the world championship in 2011 because of her prowess on the uneven bars, but has added every event to her repertoire to help her chances. At this point, Li has to start proving her worth to the gymnastics powers-that-be.
"There's only five spots on the Olympic team. It's about being prepared as you can be, and try to get as consistent as possible."
But as an older gymnast, she also has the motivation of no regrets.
"I did make a comeback at the college level, and that was a big jump. Making worlds last year was a huge boost in my confidence going into this year, but I also had foot surgery. I recently had two screws put in my foot. Getting back to this level in a short amount of time is already something I'm really proud of. Leaving the sport with no regrets and finishing out these years the best I can is all I can ask for."
She is also moved by her coaches -- who are also her parents. Competing for China, they won Olympic medals in 1984.
"[Making the Olympic team] would mean more than anything I could ask for. My parents were both in the Olympics in 1984. Ever since I was little, I wanted to make the Olympics just like my parents did. They were world medalists, too, so it's something that I've already accomplished last year, but just making the Olympics would be amazing. "
She will compete in front of a home crowd on Saturday. Li said her entire Legacy Elite club will be at the event, as well as friends and family from the area. They will watch her as her gymnastics career comes full circle.
"When I was in high school at Waubonsie, there was a competition here that was a Classic that I competed in as well, so it's kind of fun to come back to that. So yes, I've been around here for a while, doing gymnastics for a really long time."