Winning Olympic gold as a gymnast is the stuff of dreams for little girls across America, but of the hundreds of thousands who participate and compete nationally each year only a handful – 100 – receive an invitation to the National Olympic Gymnastics training Center in Houston, Texas.
As a state, South Carolina sends from one to three young gymnasts a year. This year, four will go in October, including two from the same school, Lake Murray Elementary in Chapin.
Ten-year-old Madeline Reid and 8-year-old Ashley Locke, who train under coach Abby Reid at Lake Murray Gymnastics, earned invitations thanks to their performance over five testings this summer. Their aggregate scores were then sent to the national office in Indianapolis, which then issues rankings. From those rankings gymnasts qualify for the USA Gymnastics National Talent Opportunity Program, or TOPS, for short.
For those gymnasts who do go on to represent America and compete for Olympic gold, coach Reid says this is where they start.
"It is where they start. If you were to look up some of the previous Olympians, you would see their names on the TOPS national charts."
Achieving that level of success doesn't come without rigorous scrutiny and performance under pressure.
"It is incredibly demanding. You are with Olympic coaches, so the coaches that you see on television are the ones that are there judging. If they're selected to come to the some of the training camps, the training camps are very rigorous and a lot of pressure."
At such young ages, do Madeline and Ashley fully grasp what's potentially at stake?
"I don't think they quite grasp it, especially the younger ones. The older kids to understand it a little bit more, especially once you've been to the national training center and you see the pictures on the walls and you see their coaches walking around. I don't know that that's necessarily our goal.
"Certainly if that were the end result it would be amazing, but I don't know that that's necessarily our goal. Our goal is really to promote the sport and get the most out of the athletes that we can and it's incredible that these young ladies can sustain the workouts that are required to get to this level."
Both girls started at the age of 3, and both started competing right away because of their natural gifts, so Reid says the invitation is a culmination of from five to seven years of work for the girls. When the good news came, Reid says she didn't spill the beans right away.
"I help onto the information for quite some time. They all cheered."
For Madeline, who has made the national trials before, the news still came as surprise.
"I was a little surprised. I made it before, but I wasn't sure I was going to make it again."
Madeline says the reason she wasn't sure was because as you get older the competition gets tougher.
"This time it was a little bit harder because when you get to this part of tops it's a lot harder in skills."
For Ashley, who will be making her first trip to the nationals, the news came as less of a surprise than a shock.
"I got really nervous, then I got happy."
The trials take place in Houston over four days beginning October 9th.