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US Gymnastics Championships: Five Massachusetts men take their first steps toward 2024 Olympics

Stephen Nedoroscik only returned to training in May after dealing with injuries; the nationals will mark his first major competition of the year.Toru Hanai/Getty

The first US Gymnastics Championships of a new Olympic cycle is full of athletes jockeying for position in the leadup to the next Summer Games. For five gymnasts from Massachusetts traveling to Tampa to compete at Amalie Arena, their first steps toward the 2024 Paris Games begin now.

Worcester’s Stephen Nedoroscik, reigning world champion on the pommel horse, leads the strongest contingent of Bay State men’s gymnasts to the championships in recent memory. Joining him in Thursday and Saturday’s senior men’s competition will be Fred Richard, the Stoughton teen who has dominated international junior competition for the last two years, and Ian Lasic-Ellis, the Dover-born Stanford student who represented the United States on the World Cup circuit earlier this year.

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Two current college gymnasts round out the Massachusetts contingent: Penn State’s Matt Cormier of Milton and Illinois’s Ian Skirkey of Pepperell.

Matt Cormier competes during the NCAA men's gymnastics championships this past April.Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

For Nedoroscik, who missed last year’s Olympic team but redeemed himself by winning the first gold medal for an American at a World Championships since 2011, this week’s nationals mark his first major competition of the season. The Penn State alumnus competed through injury at worlds, and only returned to training in May.

“This will be my first competition [this season] where something is on the line,” said Nedoroscik.

At July’s US Classic, Nedoroscik earned an impressive 14.743 on pommel horse despite a fall, winning the event. With his main competitor on the apparatus, Alec Yoder, now retired, a national pommel horse title is well within Nedoroscik’s grasp.

“Hitting both routines and scoring well will be my only way to make it to world trials,” said Nedoroscik. “If I want to defend my world title, then that’s what I have to do.”

Nedoroscik needs to deliver the strongest performance possible in Tampa to advance to this fall’s world team trials, especially because he is at a disadvantage compared with those who compete all-around. According to USA Gymnastics’ world team selection criteria, the organization’s priority for 2022 World Championships selection is fielding a team that can place in the top three. Such a finish would earn the United States a bid to the 2024 Olympics, and relax the stakes for the 2023 worlds.

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Since Nedoroscik competes on only one apparatus, he may not always factor into the best-scoring world team. However, Nedoroscik is practicing a routine that, if hit perfectly, could score a 17.1, the highest score ever on pommel horse. If he hits the routine or close to it in Tampa, he makes a strong case for the world team.

One of Nedoroscik’s Penn State teammates, Cormier, recently emerged on the scene with high-scoring showings of his own. At the US Classic, Cormier stunned many by scoring a 15.222 on floor exercise. The Penn State junior won the apparatus and ranked fifth all-around. He enters this week’s event as a medal possibility on floor.

“I’d been training a harder routine and knew that the one I competed would be a great start to Classics,” said Cormier. “I was glad to hit such a great routine and get my name out there a little more.”

Fred Richard of Stoughton trains on the rings last month at Massachusetts Elite Gymnastics Academy in Millis.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

For Richard, these championships are his first at the senior level. Last year’s junior national champion competed on just three apparatus at the US Classic, having just returned from a seven-medal performance at the Pan-Am Championships. But the Michigan-bound gymnast wowed on high bar, finishing second with a 14.872.

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Because he has competed at the junior level internationally this year, Richard is ineligible for the world team. These nationals will still be important for him, as he seeks to serve notice that he should be in the conversation next year.

“I’ve trained with these guys before at national team camps,” said Richard earlier this summer. “I like the pressure. It’s intense, and I want to push them.”

One of the most well-rounded gymnasts in the country, Lasic-Ellis could find himself in the world team conversation. His top-10 performances at the Osijek and Cairo World Cups provide valuable international experience. He also won the NCAA championship with Stanford, and will compete this week alongside 10 of his Cardinal teammates.

Skirkey, the 2021 NCAA pommel horse champion and a two-time All-American, seeks to cement himself as one of the masters of the notoriously difficult apparatus behind Nedoroscik.

Defending national champion Brody Malone is the favorite for the men’s all-around title, while fellow Olympians Yul Moldauer and Shane Wiskus will challenge for the top spot. Another gymnast to watch is Donnell Whittenberg, who is in the best shape of his nine-year senior career.

For the women, the absence of Simone Biles means this week’s championships will see their first new all-around champion since 2017. Among the contenders are Konnor McClain, Shilese Jones, Leanne Wong, and Kayla DiCello, while 2020 Olympians Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles begin their comebacks.

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Kat Cornetta can be reached at sportsgirlkat@gmail.com.