Al Fong’s voice mail message comes straight to the point:
“I’m busy training Olympians right now, I’ll call you. Thanks.”
The famed coach and former LSU gymnast had two Olympic medalists come out of his Great American Gymnastics Express facility in suburban Kansas City, Missouri: 2004 silver medalists Courtney McCool and Terin Humphrey, along with LSU’s Sarah Finnegan and Ivana Hong, who became Olympic alternates.
Fong believes he could be training another Olympian in Aleah Finnegan, Sarah’s youngest sister.
“She’s shooting for 2020,” Fong said of Aleah Finnegan, who is committed to attend LSU in 2021 and compete in 2022.
That’s the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
“I want to try for the Olympics,” Aleah said in a recent interview with FloGymnastics.com.
“She’s talented enough to pull it off,” Fong said. But, he quickly cautioned, the competition to make the U.S. Olympic team is fierce.
“She’s in a pack the same as about 20 others,” he said.
A Level 10 gymnast, 14-year-old Aleah is hoping to make the jump to elite status this year. She isn’t far away. In 2017, she won the Junior Olympics all-around title. She was scheduled to compete Saturday night in the prestigious Charity Choice Invitational meet in Tacoma, Washington.
“People ask me who’s better: Sarah or Aleah?” says Hannah Finnegan, the oldest of the four Finnegan sisters and herself a former collegiate gymnast at Missouri. “I really don’t know. They’re only six years apart, but gymnastics continues to get harder and harder. Aleah has learned to rise to meet new challenges. She’s very good, and LSU is lucky to have her.”
Naturally, Sarah was a big influence in Aleah picking LSU. But she also liked it for itself.
“I love the atmosphere,” Aleah Finnegan said. “I like the coaches and what they stand for and the academics. It felt like a good fit.”
Finnegan is the second younger sister of a current LSU gymnast on track to join the program. McKenna Kelley’s youngest sister, Emma, is expected to enroll at LSU in 2020 and compete in 2021. Their mother is 1984 Olympic all-around gold medalist Mary Lou Retton.