DETROIT — Longtime friends and competitors Briana Stewart and Nicole Souder stood atop the United States Tumbling Association Podium in the first and second spots on July 28, moments after a tough two-person duel in the rod floor event at the AAU Junior Olympic Games.
Stewart, a 2012 Effingham graduate, had just taken her fourth first-place finish in a distinguished career while Souder, an Olney product, finished in second. Raised a tad higher than her challenger, Stewart had been in this position before, graciously accepting a gold medal as it was draped around neck.
Yet this most recent triumph was perhaps her sweetest, because when she finally stepped down from the podium, she knew she wouldn't be making the familiar trip back to the top."This is my retiring year," Stewart said. "It was really rewarding for me in my last Junior Olympics. Kind of bittersweet, but I'm really proud of myself for how I finished."
Stewart recorded a higher score than Souder in each of their four passes, closing with a mark of 83.10. Souder finished more than eight tallies back at an even 75.
"I did beat my personal best," Stewart said. "Although it was just me and Nicole, I did throw my best skills. Rather than just winning, I really did a great job with my skills."
Her fourth gold medal, this one coming in the advanced 17-and-older division, marked the culmination of 15 years of hard work in the sport. Stewart began as a 3-year-old splitting time between tumbling and gymnastics, but realized as an early teen that her future lay with the former.
"I stopped [gymnastics] completely when I was 13," Stewart said. "Tumbling was really for me, I think just the simplicity behind it. Gymnastics is so complicated, it's four events, a lot to put on my plate. When I focused on one event [rod floor], the one I was really good at, I could improve so much more and just grow. I realized how much I loved it."