By Jean DePlacido
---- — Peabody’s Samantha Nelson is used to clutch performances in the biggest gymnastic events. Nelson, a senior at St. Mary’s, was one of the best at the Junior Olympic Nationals in Minneapolis. She finished third on floor, sixth on beam, and fifth all around, missing first place by the closest of margins (0.275) in the field of over 200 top Level 10 gymnasts from across the country.
“It was very exciting,” said Nelson, who made her fourth and final trip to the nationals. “I didn’t check the board so I wasn’t aware where I was in the all around scoring. I was determined to make my last trip to nationals memorable and do my very best.”
Nelson, who is going to Arkansas on a gymnastic scholarship, came close to not qualifying for the national event this year after an unfortunate fall at regionals in Worcester. Only the top seven finishers were invited, and after the first three events at regionals Nelson was in first place. It was a great feeling with on floor exercises remaining because that is her best event.
Usually she scores at least a 9.5 on floor, but fell and stepped out of bounds which caused her score to fall below 9.0. She held onto the seventh spot by the slimmest of margins. Nelson was unhappy with her performance and eager to redeem herself at nationals.
It was déjà vu in Minnesota, where she found herself in the same position after the first three events. But this time she came through with a spectacular floor performance to nail down a top spot. Nelson also led her Region 6 team (New England and New York) to a second place finish, which is the best the region has seen in many years.
“I had worked hard to prepare and felt really confident going in,” said Nelson, who trains at Ace Gymnastics in Ipswich under coaches Laura Tebo and Christine Potamis. “My coaches did a great job working with me, and it felt so good to accomplish my goals.
“Region 6 never placed as long as I’ve been on the team, and it was so exciting to be part of that great finish. We cheered each other on, and the team atmosphere is a lot different from individual performances. I had so much fun doing both, and it’s great our team performed so well. We got medals and a plaque.”
Nelson also received a nice individual honor and was invited to attend a national training camp at USA Gymnastics training center at the Karolyi Ranch in Huntsville,Texas. Bela and Marta Karolyi’s ranch has been designated as the official site of the US Olympic Training Center, and only the top five all around finishers were selected.
“We just got the paperwork, and it will be held in late September,” said Nelson. “It’s an honor to be invited and have the chance to get pointers from the best coaches in the country. I’m going to take a short time to enjoy everything, but then I’ll have to set new goals for myself.”