With a strong performance competing for the U.S. Senior Women’s Elite National team in the recent Pan American Championships, Nola Matthews’ path toward this summer’s U.S. Gymnastics Championships in San Jose continues to be on a nice trajectory.
The 16-year-old Gilroy resident won the uneven bars on back-to-back days, in the individual and team competition. She also was entered into the all-around category, which requires a gymnast to do every event. The Pan-American Championships was May 26-28 in Medellin, a bustling city of 2.6 million in Colombia.
“The first day I got to do the all-around and there were definitely some tiny errors, but I was glad to hit every event and didn’t fall,” she said. “And I was happy I was able to hit a clean bars routine. [Both performances] were pretty similar, some parts better than others and some a little worse. But I think I did both routines how I wanted to, very clean and just doing it for the team.”
Since joining the Senior Elite level in 2022, Matthews has traveled the world for competitions. However, she said the atmosphere in Medellin was one of the best environments she’s ever had an opportunity to experience.
“The crowd was so loud, probably the loudest one in competition so far,” she said. “They were very loud and very excited and it made for a great experience and a lot of fun. My floor routine on the first day, I think a girl from Colombia had just finished competing and the crowd was so loud I couldn’t even hear my music at the start of my routine.”
The U.S. women won gold, their first Pan-Am Championship victory since 2018.
“It was so exciting and such a good experience because we hit every routine and kept building momentum,” said Matthews, who took fourth in the all-around with 52.267 points and won the uneven bars on back-to-back days, with scores of 14.067 in the team competition and a mark of 14.0 in the individual competition.
Matthews can’t wait for this year’s U.S. National Championships, Aug. 24-27 at SAP Center. She is just one of 21 Senior Elite Women eligible to compete, having qualified by virtue of a third-place finish in the Winter Cup in Louisville, Ky., in February.
She finished 13th in the U.S. Championships last year and has improved dramatically since then, not just in her scores and physical skill set but in her mental approach as well.
“This year I’m not going to focus on the scores too much because if I do my routines the way I want to, I’ll be happier,” she said. “I just want to compete in the way I’ve been training and taking top 10 would be a goal of mine. … Right now I’m just getting back to some skills working on a tiny bit of upgrades because it’s always so tiring coming back from a big trip [and competition].”
For the Senior Elite level gymnasts, International competitions tend to be business trips. In the nine days leading up to the Pan-Am Championships, the team had several double day training sessions.
“The rotations on this trip were very short,” Matthews said. “Each practice for each event you only had 15 minutes to train, so it’s a lot of intentional turns and focusing on doing what each turn requires to make you feel the most prepared. The training gym was next to the competition gym and even on days when you compete, you warm up in the training gym and go to the competition, get one turn in your event and compete. But it was a lot of fun competing with the girls.”