TOKYO — Whenever she looks at her left hand, Grace McCallum gets a reminder of how far she's come in seven months. She still can't straighten the middle finger she jammed in January, the last remnant of a hand injury that almost derailed her quest to make the Olympic team.
"It's a work in progress,'' the Isanti gymnast said. "But it's getting there.''
Just like everything else. McCallum, 18, has been working on a new bars routine and integrating upgrades on other events since last month, when she was one of four gymnasts named to the U.S. women's team for the Tokyo Games. She's hoping to show some of those fresh moves in Sunday's qualifying round, as McCallum, Simone Biles, St. Paul's Suni Lee and Jordan Chiles begin Olympic competition at Ariake Gymnastics Center.
McCallum's goal is to compete in at least three of the four events during team competition. She believes she can boost the U.S. score on floor exercise, and that her upgraded bars routine can also help. As she prepared for the Games, McCallum also worked to "fix a few things'' in her beam routine and trained two different vaults.
Coach Sarah Jantzi dubbed McCallum "Amazing Grace'' before the Olympic trials, confident McCallum would live up to the name. Jantzi had seen her do it before.
"She had a lot of setbacks with the injury,'' said Jantzi, coach at Twin City Twisters in Champlin. "She worked so hard to get herself back to where she was.
"That's in our gym's DNA. We preach to our kids that we don't give up. Grace stuck with it, and she knew the results would show if she put in the work.''
McCallum has been part of the U.S. women's national team since 2018, when she moved up to the senior level. Though she was only 15 years old, she won the all-around at the Pacific Rim Championships in her first international meet as a senior and helped the U.S. to team gold. She celebrated her 16th birthday that year atop an awards podium at the world championships, after the Americans won the team title.
Having that kind of success at a young age pumped up McCallum's confidence. She has been on a steady upward trajectory since then, quietly staking out her place in a crowd of world-class American gymnasts.
McCallum also proudly represents her home state, which produced three of eight gymnasts on the U.S. men's and women's teams for Tokyo. In addition to Lee and McCallum, the men's team includes former Gopher Shane Wiskus of Spring Park. Just as McCallum was inspired by Maggie Nichols, the former Twin City Twisters gymnast who won a world championship before a stellar NCAA career, she hopes to show the way for other Minnesota girls.
"I think it's so cool to have three of us on the team,'' McCallum said. "I think it shows our programs are getting a lot better here, and we're raising more up-and-coming athletes.''
At the Olympics, McCallum will be one strong all-arounder among many. Three members of the team—McCallum, Lee and four-time Olympic gold medalist Biles—won the team title at the 2019 world championships. Chiles, who trains alongside Biles in Texas, will be making her senior international debut in Tokyo but is remarkably consistent.
McCallum's hand injury, which happened during beam training in January, turned out to be a momentary blip on her path to the Olympics. Doctors inserted a plate and seven screws to repair a fracture, and despite an infection and a pulled muscle, McCallum healed quickly.
Except, of course, for that crooked finger. It bends enough to get around the bar, which is all McCallum needs in Tokyo.