Shane Wiskus has competed at only one gymnastics meet in the past year, when the Gophers senior represented the U.S. at a special event in Japan last November. For Suni Lee, the calendar has been even emptier; 16 months have passed since the St. Paul gymnast won three medals at the 2019 world championships.
Like other aspiring Olympians, Lee and Wiskus have been in a holding pattern since last March, as the pandemic delayed the Tokyo Games by a year and canceled every major U.S. and international meet. Their long wait will end this weekend at the Winter Cup in Indianapolis. About 60 top American gymnasts will compete at the three-day event, which restarts the elite gymnastics schedule with five months to go until the Olympics.
Lee plans to compete on uneven bars and balance beam, debuting a new bars routine with significant upgrades. Wiskus, who left the Gophers to train in Colorado Springs, will compete in all-around; following the Winter Cup, he will participate in select events for the Gophers, including the NCAA championships.
Both have the same goal this weekend: to get back into performance mode after months of practicing behind closed doors.
"I'm excited, but I'm also really nervous," said Lee, 17, who trains at Midwest Gymnastics in Little Canada. "People think we had a whole year to prepare, but we haven't because the gyms have been closing and opening because of COVID. It's been hard for all of us.
"But I'm really excited to get out there. There won't be any fans allowed, so that's sad, but it will be fun to see my friends again and compete."
The women's field at the Winter Cup includes Lee, Jade Carey and Riley McCusker, who have won team gold at the world championships, and 2016 Olympic gold medalist Laurie Hernandez. Wiskus and world bronze medalists Donnell Whittenburg and Yul Moldauer are among several U.S. national team members competing on the men's side.
Two other Gophers, Mike Moran and Crew Bold, also are entered. The meet will help determine the 2021 women's and men's national teams, as well as qualifiers for the U.S. championships in June.
Lee has missed training time because of injuries and gym shutdowns, but she is happy with the progress on her bars routine. She's also pleased by the strides her father, John, has made in his recovery from a serious accident in 2019.
John Lee, who was paralyzed in a fall, is able to move his legs with aid from an electrical stimulation device implanted in his spinal cord last November. He has continued to improve through physical therapy, despite a bout with COVID-19.
"My mom and dad and little sister all had it," Suni Lee said. "I was staying with my older sister, so I wasn't exposed. Everyone recovered fine."
Wiskus has thrived at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where he moved last fall because of concerns about how his training would be affected when the Gophers program is disbanded in April. The Winter Cup will allow him to try out some upgrades to his routines before rejoining the Gophers next week for a home meet against Penn State.
He will return to Colorado Springs for another month of training, then finish his Gophers career at the Big Ten championships and the NCAA championships April 16-17 at Maturi Pavilion.
"My ultimate goal at Winter Cup is just to get back out there and compete," said Wiskus, the Big Ten gymnast of the year in each of his first three seasons. "It feels like it's been forever.
"The second part of the season, I'll be a lot more involved with the Gophers. I just needed to get settled in to [Colorado Springs]. I'm really looking forward to being back with the team."
The college competition will fill a void. Several of this year's international meets already have been canceled, and after the Winter Cup, the next U.S. event for elite men is the national championships June 3-6. The women's elite calendar includes one domestic event, the U.S. Classic, before the nationals.
Lee wishes there were more competitions ahead of the Olympic trials June 24-27, but she has become used to making do under less than ideal circumstances. She's prepared to make the best of it, starting this weekend.
"I haven't competed in a long time," Lee said. "I just feel like I need a couple of meets to get all the nerves out and remember what it feels like to compete in front of judges.
"It's just going to be so different. But it's still going to be fun."