Amidst the USA’s ban on foreign athletes competing in American competitions, Simone Biles’ coach extends a warm welcome to the Tokyo gymnast.

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There’s never been more anticipation for the artistic gymnastics competition at Arena Bercy in Paris in 2024. The next tournament is making waves outside of the world of international gymnastics, though. On January 9, 2024, the US Women’s International Elite Committee declared that foreign competitors would no longer be allowed to compete in its home meets. Fans of gymnastics are now wondering if this audacious move will impact the sport’s global brotherhood.

A Japanese Olympic gymnast was welcomed by the longstanding coach of America’s most decorated gymnast, Simone Biles, raising the question, “Does the spirit of gymnastics transcend borders?”

In the gymnastics world, Simone Biles’s success is greatly attributed to 1996 Olympian Cécile Canqueteau-Landi, who went on to become a coach. Aiko Sugihara, a Japanese gymnast who competed in the Olympic Games in 2016 and 2020, has made the World Champions Centre (WCC), owned by the Biles family, in Spring, Texas, a hotbed of potential. Landi’s Instagram story featured a warm greeting with the remark, “Welcome to (US Flag emoji) love having you here.”

Aiko Sugihara, at twenty-four, has already left her mark on the gymnastics community. She made her debut in 2013 and later won four medals at the 2015 Asian Championships. Later, in 2016, she competed for Japan at the Summer Olympics, where she contributed to her team’s fourth-place finish.

The coach of Simone Biles’s unreserved embrace of Aiko Sugihara symbolizes harmony in a sport that has long embraced diversity and inclusivity. “They told me I was going to fail when I left France,” said Landi, who from 2001 to 2004 moved to teaching at the French National Training Center. Subsequently, the foreign-born athlete turned WCC instructor, grooming other elite athletes. Landi acknowledges that she is an outsider, but in light of the recent American athlete ban, there is more to talk about.

The existing ban on international competitors competing in the Winter Cup, American Classic, or U.S. Classic has sparked debates among the gymnastics world. The motion, proposed by Brian Carey and seconded by Kittia Carpenter, was accepted unanimously by the ten-member committee; however, no explanation for this strict decision has been offered.

The gymnastics community is interested in knowing if this move would help the sport expand locally or hinder it from growing. One major question remains as the gymnastics community deals with the consequences of recent geopolitical decisions: will gymnastics be a means of bridging national divides or is a more solitary period in the sport beginning?

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