ROCKINGHAM — When the 2016 Olympics open in Rio Aug. 5, Hamlet native Ashton Locklear hopes to be there.
The 18-year old gymnast has had her eye on the Olympics trials — which will be held from July 8 to July 10 in San Jose, California — since returning from a torn rotator cuff that kept her out of competition in 2015.
And if Locklear’s performance during the trials are anything similar to the golden performance she scored at the Pacific Rim Championships in April or the gold-medal finish — over 2012 Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas — at the Jeselo Trophy competition back in March, her chances are very high.
“Ashton, she’s just not real,” said Terry Barrett, owner and coach at Physical Awareness and Gymnastics in Hamlet. “I mean, she wins in everything. And when you think about, do you know how many billions of kids she has eliminated to get to that point? It’s going to help put Richmond County on the map.”
The walls at Physical Awareness and Gymnastics are decorated with hundreds of banners and medals, emphasizing the amount of talent that has trained at the Hamlet-based gym.
But none of the names on those walls have seen more success than that of Ashton Locklear.
“Every year that she competed, she won,” Barrett added.
Locklear began to practice power tumbling at the gym at the age of 2 years old. By the time she was four, Locklear was ready to compete.
The Olympic hopeful won many competitions to start off, but the biggest win of her early career came in 2008 when she won the national competition in California in both the power tumbling and artistic divisions.
“That’s real unusual,” Barrett explained. “She was doing both and she went straight to the top.”
That win at the 2008 nationals was the beginning of a special run that is just reaching its peak.
In 2014, Locklear traveled to Toronto, Canada and grabbed a first-place finish on uneven bars in the Pan American Championships, made the U.S. national team and finished fourth on uneven bars at the World Championships in China.
Locklear had a clear shot at the top of the podium, but an awkward land — which broke her toe — after coming off of the bars resulted in a few extra hops and some costly deductions, dropping her to fourth place.
Although the shoulder injury idled her last year, Locklear has come back in great shape this year with the two first-place finishes in Washington and Italy. She hopes to conquer one more event in June — the P&G Championships in St. Louis, Missouri — before placing all her focus on the Olympic trials.
And Barrett — who has coached gymnasts to a combined 131 state, regional and national titles since 2004 — believes Locklear has a really good shot at making it, because she had such an early and successful start in power tumbling. That’s experience other 18-year-old gymnasts don’t have.
“In artistic, the first two or three years, they don’t let you do anything,” Barrett said. “With this, it’s straight to flipping. You go straight to doing push-ups.”
And that kind of versatile background, Barrett claims, will take her far.
There will be a “Meet and Greet” fundraiser with Olympic hopeful Ashton Locklear from 5 to 8:30 p.m. this Saturday at Physical Awareness and Gymnastics — 9 Hamlet Ave. in Hamlet.
There will be hot dogs, drinks and desserts for sale.
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.