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Pre-med Florida junior Leanne Wong chases a spot on the US Olympic gymnastics team

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Leanne Wong almost begged her professor at the University of Florida for a little extra time before turning in the first assignment for a health course in her pre-med major.

Wong had something else pretty important on the schedule, she explained.

Classes in Gainesville started last week and the paper was due Friday.

One problem: Friday was the first night of the U.S. Gymnastics Championships across the country in Northern California. The professor agreed to give her an extension until Monday.

"It was a long email," Wong said with a grin.

Maybe she could have just asked her professor to turn on the TV to catch the teenager more than holding her own in a field that includes Olympic champions Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee.

Rocking a hand-made, glittery baby-blue bow that held her hair in a tight bun, Wong posted an all-around total score of 55.350, good enough for fourth place heading into Sunday's finals.

“I think I did really well today and it’s a great start,” she said.

Wong beamed as she held Florida coach Jenny Rowland in a long embrace following a near-flawless routine on uneven bars. She high-fived and fist-bumped fellow competitors in her rotation and anyone else awed by the seemingly tireless college junior who turns 20 next month.

Oh, she's probably going to miss class then, too.

“I'm pretty sure world trials fall on my birthday, so I'll be competing for a spot on the world championship team," she said. "That'll be fun.”

By next summer, Wong hopes to be chasing gold. She will vie for a spot on USA Gymnastics’ five-woman squad at the Paris Olympics.

In an event with all the attention and rousing cheers focused on Biles’ comeback, Wong went about her business and was thrilled with her triumphs and steady performances on each apparatus. With one athlete scratching from her group, it meant Wong went first on both vault and floor.

“Sometimes it can be a little rushed,” she said, though there were no signs of her being fazed.

On bars, perhaps her best event, Wong stuck her landing and beamed as she received a hug from Rowland. There's a beautiful blend of spirit and tenacity that makes Wong stand out even in the same arena with all eyes on Biles.

“You see her smile and your heart just melts,” Rowland said. “The level of her routines here compared to what she does for us on a weekly basis is a lot higher, but it goes to show that you know what, if you want something very badly, she's super motivated, she's super determined and really just a joy to be around.”

An alternate for the Tokyo Olympics, Wong captured a silver medal in the all-round competition at the 2021 world championships shortly after the Games and was part of the 2022 U.S. team that won gold at worlds last fall.

Wong is among the more polished and poised collegiate gymnasts balancing competition simultaneously at both the NCAA and elite levels.

“She came into our program already at that level,” Rowland said. “She's graceful, she's elegant and her power, she just continues to get stronger and more powerful, which has been really fun to see. She's really embraced it.”

The crazy-busy Wong also has her own business operating out of her dorm room. Leanne Wong Bowtique sells custom-printed gymnastics wear. Her mother, Bee Ding, helps her make the bows by hand and they have sold more than 10,000 since December 2021.

“I've been all bowed out, I've got them on my socks, I've got them all over my clothes,” Wong said.

Rowland even sported blue and white ones on each Florida-colored sneaker while on the podium at the SAP Center on Friday night.

Last weekend, Wong somehow got the materials and made more than 40 ambassador T-shirts, then shipped them before leaving for Northern California.

“I don’t know if I have it all figured out yet; I’m still learning to manage my time wisely," said Wong, who originally is from Overland Park, Kansas, and loves carving out opportunities to engage with her fans on social media.

“Of course I have to prioritize school and gymnastics first because I'm going to the University of Florida and I'm a pre-med track, so I have a lot of school to do," she said. "And training for both college gymnastics and elite gymnastics is a lot, but I like to say that my bow business is like my free time, my down time, something I just enjoy doing.”

Her final day of this competition is Sunday, then it will be more homework on the flight home. That's all just part of the gig.

“I'm missing Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Monday, Tuesday of class, so I'm a little bit behind I guess for in-person, but I'm getting all the recorded lectures from some of my classmates, so that's really helpful," Wong said, "so on the plane that's what I'm going to be doing, catching up on school.”

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AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games