Olympic-bound gymnast Aleah Finnegan grateful she took plunge to represent PH

Delfin Dioquino

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Olympic-bound gymnast Aleah Finnegan grateful she took plunge to represent PH

REPRESENT. Aleah Finnegan of the Philippines in the 2023 Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships.

Aleah Finnegan Instagram page

A year after switching federations from the United States to the Philippines, Aleah Finnegan qualifies for the Paris Games as she is set to become the first female gymnast from the country to see action in the Olympics in six decades

MANILA, Philippines – Aleah Finnegan will be the first to admit that she did not know what she was getting herself into when she switched federations from the United States to the Philippines.

Looking back, though, Finnegan is pleased she took the plunge.

The 20-year-old claimed a coveted spot in the Paris Games as she is set to become the first female gymnast from the country to participate in the Olympics in six decades.

“Back then, it wasn’t necessarily a one-time thing, but I really wasn’t thinking too much ahead into the future about where that could possible take me,” said Finnegan.

“I’m really just so thankful that I kind of took that leap and dove right into that because I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t.”

Finnegan represented the United States for a couple of years, becoming part of the squad that won the women’s team crown in the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.

There, she teamed up with Morgan Hurd, Kara Eaker, Riley McCusker, and Leanne Wong – all gold medalists in the world championships.

But two years later, Finnegan opted to retire from elite gymnastics in June 2021 after failing to earn a spot in the Olympic Trials and instead decided to focus on her NCAA stint with the Louisiana State University (LSU).

“I really wasn’t sure if that was a door that I wanted to be open again, if that was something I wanted to take,” said Finnegan about her elite gymnastics career.

“I was competing for university at that time, so I said I’m just going to see how the rest of the season goes and if I’m feeling good mentally and physically, I’ll take that step.”

Immediate impact

Successfully recruited by the Gymnastics Association of the Philippines, Finnegan showed out the first time she suited up for the country in the Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi, Vietnam, in May last year.

Finnegan powered the squad that captured the team title and bagged the vault gold on top of silvers in the individual all-around and balance beam as the country finished as the best performing nation in women’s artistic gymnastics.

In the Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships last June in Singapore, Finnegan contributed a pair of bronzes in vault and balance beam to help the Philippines land second in the medal tally, just behind powerhouse Japan.

Finnegan also qualified for the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, in October together with Kylee Kvamme, joining Filipino star Carlos Yulo in the sport’s first qualifying event for the Paris Games.

But even then, Finnegan hardly thought about the Olympics.

“Going into the worlds, I didn’t really know that that was an option, that you could qualify for Paris directly,” said Finnegan.

“I tried not to put too much pressure on myself just because even being at the world championships in general is an amazing experience. You’re going against all these high-caliber athletes from all over the world.”

Finnegan punched her Paris ticket as one of the 14 highest-ranked eligible athletes in the women’s individual all-around qualification, finishing 32nd overall with 51.366 points.

She is set to become the first female gymnast from the Philippines to see action in the Olympics since Maria-Luisa Floro and Evelyn Magluyan competed in the 1964 edition in Tokyo, Japan.

“I think that’s insane. There’s so many talented gymnasts in the Philippines,” said Finnegan.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity to not only represent the Philippines but be able to kind of represent gymnastics in itself because there are so many talented athletes there.”

Family affair

Reaching the Olympics is a family achievement as much as it is a personal one.

Finnegan’s three older sisters – Sarah, Hannah, and Jennah – were former gymnasts, but she is the only one to qualify in the sport’s biggest stage.

Sarah, a two-time uneven bars champion for LSU in the NCAA, came close as an alternate for the United States women’s team in the 2012 London Olympics.

Hannah, meanwhile, represented the Philippines in the 2011 SEA Games.

“Just being able to tell them that I did it and I’m going to the Olympics, it’s still so surreal to be able to say it, and representing the Philippines is really such an honor,” said Finnegan.

But perhaps, Finnegan draws the biggest inspiration from a non-gymnast member of the family – her mother Linabelle.

Finnegan traces her Filipino roots to Linabelle, who was born and raised in Manila before she moved to the United States after earning a university scholarship.

“She was kind of the voice of reason, being like this is an opportunity for [me] to be able to represent not only the Philippines, but my family, kind of my roots and how I got to be, basically,” said Finnegan.

“I’m just thankful for her. She’s my biggest supporter. She’s never missed a competition. She’s constantly there no matter what happens, no matter what I do in competitions, just regardless of the situation.”

“For me to be able to kind of thank her in a way of representing the Philippines, it’s an honor.”

The bubbly gymnast plans to return to NCAA action in the first quarter of next year as she looks to deliver LSU more medals after bagging a floor exercise silver last season before she gears up for Paris.

“I’m still undecided if I want to join any competitions prior to the Olympics. Take it how it goes, I guess,” said Finnegan. –

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Delfin Dioquino

Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.