By Marty Gordon
Seventeen-year-old Rayna Worley has not been shy on the national gymnastic stage for a long time. Matter of fact, she had judges raising their eyebrows at a recent national event in Greensboro, North Carolina.
The Christiansburg teenager came with .325 points of taking down Ohio State gymnast Makarri Doggette who claimed the all-around title at last week’s Nastia Liukin Cup. Only the top 36 gymnasts in the country were invited to the event. Doggette is a former Junior Olympic National Champion.
The event is named after Nastia Liukin, who in 2008 brought home the Olympic all-around title. The 10th edition of her dream event for young gymnasts took place at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Though not intended to be a competition that pinpoints Olympic-level talent, the Nastia Liukin Cup has nonetheless served as a launch pad for storied elite careers.
Among the 36-woman field at the inaugural edition in 2010 was a young gymnast from Virginia named Gabrielle Douglas, whose daring and athleticism marked her as one to watch. In London 30 months later, Douglas succeeded Liukin as the reigning Olympic all-around champion.
Past Nastia Liukin Cup champions include NCAA standouts Mackenzie Brannan (University of Alabama), Rachael Flam (Stanford University), Charity Jones (University of Oklahoma), Alex McMurtry (University of Florida), Lexie Priessman (Louisiana State University) and Grace Williams (University of Nebraska). Five other participants — Douglas, Morgan Hurd, Ashton Locklear, Maggie Nichols and MyKayla Skinner — have gone on to win gold at the World Championships, while 2009 World vault champion Kayla Williams qualified to the meet in 2011 after stepping away from the elite level as she prepared to embark on an NCAA career at Alabama.
The Nastia Liukin Cup is the first event of USA Gymnastics’ Triple Cup weekend that includes Saturday’s American Cup and Elite Team Cup, featuring junior elite male gymnasts from each region of the country.
Worley, who recently signed a letter of intent for gymnastics to the University of Kentucky, has been a participant since a very young age.
“I started gymnastics when I was four years old. One of the birthday presents from my parents was a gymnastics class and after that class, I was hooked,” she said.
Worley has trained at Virginia Techniques in Christiansburg since then, winning honor after honor.
This past year, she was a national Beam Silver Medalist and Floor Bronze Medalist, and was a part of the Junior Olympic national team that traveled to Peru.
Her awards are almost too many to even list, but they include: fourth place in the Virginia State Championships, state all-around champion, state vault/beam and floor champion, silver medalist in Virginia Bar competition, regional all-around champion, regional beam and floor champion, regional silver medalist in bars, Junior National Silver Medalist in the beam and Region 7 All-Star Team.
Other outstanding marks include: first place in the Techniques Invitational in vault, bars, beam and floor; first place at the Gymstrada Invitational in vault, bars, beam and floor; first place at the Rock Star Invitational in All-Around, vault, bar, beam and floor; first place at the Manhattan Classic in vault, bars, beam and floor; first place at the Presidential Classic in All-Around, vault, beam and floor; first place in the Charleston Cup for All-Around, vault, bars and floor; and was a member of first place teams at the Gymstrada Invitational, Manhattan Classic and Charleston Cup.
Worley finished second on the horse with a 9.8 score, slightly behind Doggette who collected a 9.85. Worley also took second in floor exercise with a score of 9.85, which bettered Doggette’s 9.575. The Christiansburg gymnast finished seventh on beam and tied at 15th on bars.