Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009 | 12:01 a.m.
The time has finally arrived for Asi Peko.
The 14-year-old Henderson resident kicks off what she expects to be a busy year of gymnastics by participating in the 2009 Lady Luck Invitational Saturday at the South Point. It will be Peko's first competition since qualifying for the USA Junior National team at the Visa U.S. Championships in Boston last June.
Peko will use Lady Luck as a measuring stick to see where her skills are at after training nearly 40 hours a week this offseason. More than 1,000 gymnasts, some of the country's top judges and about a dozen college coaches are expected to attend the event, which is hosted by Peko's gym, Brown's Gymnastics. This is not a USA Junior National team competition.
"It's one of my favorite competitions because we host it," Peko said. "It's good to see what I need to improve on and build by my confidence level."
Four days after the Lady Luck competition, Peko will travel to USA Gymnastics coach Marta Karolyi's ranch in Texas for a national team training camp that could determine if Peko competes in international meets in the coming months. USA Gymnastics is scheduled for meets in Montreal, Germany and France before the summer.
Peko, who has already been to Karolyi's ranch multiple times for developmental camps, said performing there can still be intimidating.
"It's still a big deal because now I'm not just going to show Marta routines, I'm going to qualify for an international competition," Peko said. "I'm competing against teammates now. Whoever Marta thinks is ready and will serve the country well. She will pick them."
There are 24 members of the team, including 12 on the senior team, which is for ages 16 and older, and 12 on the junior team, which is made up of girls ages 15 and younger. The top 10 in each category, including Peko, receive funding from USA Gymnastics to compete.
Peko said it is still "surreal" to think she is a member of USA Gymnastics. It was a long road to garner the honor last spring.
Peko initially had to compete an Elite National Qualifier, which she placed first in the all around, in April. That earned her a spot in an event called the USA Classic, which featured the nation's top gymnasts, in May. There, she finished sixth in the all-around.
The final test to make the team came at the Visa Championships, from which the top 12 junior and senior placers earned spots on the national team. Peko finished fourth in the all around.
"It was always a big dream of mine to make the national team — it's an honor to compete for your country," Peko said. "We went there just hoping I'd make the national team, but to place fourth in the all around was amazing."
Peko's finish at the Visa Championships even surprised her coach at Brown's Gymnastics, Marcelo Figueiredo.
"I knew she would do very well, but you don't know what the other gymnasts are going to do," Figueiredo said. "She just loves the spotlight. When you call her name, she'll always give you 100 percent and sometimes more."
Though she has made the USA team, Peko is not satisfied. Her long-term goal is to compete at the 2012 Olympics in London. Peko said watching this summer's Olympics in Beijing was inspiring, especially with the knowledge she would already compete for the national team in 2009.
"I was watching not just gymnastics but all different sports to see how much people have accomplished in the Olympics," Peko said. "Just to see what it's like, what really goes on in that arena, I know that is definitely something I want to do."
Dayna Waroe, who owns Brown's Gymnastics, said Peko has a realistic chance to competing in the next Olympics. She said Peko already has mastered many of the tricks worthy of international competitions. Now it's a matter of putting the tricks into combinations, which will earn her higher start values and better scores.
Peko's work ethic, Waroe said, will never be a problem.
"For Christmas, she had bottles of wine made for each of the coaches at Browns with a personalized label that had the 2012 Olympics logo on it," Waroe said. "That's is definitely her goal. She is training seven hours a day and has to stay healthy. But her passion for the sport won't go away. It's definitely ingrained in her."
Christopher Drexel can be reached at 990-8929 or [email protected].