The Junior Olympic Gymnastics Program

Gymnasts in action during a final training session before the start of The 2013 P&G Gymnastics Championships, at the XL, Centre, Hartford, Connecticut. (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Junior Olympic (JO) gymnastics is a competitive program run by USA Gymnastics (the governing body for gymnastics in the US), for American athletes interested in many types of gymnastics: women’s artistic, men’s artistic, rhythmic, trampoline, tumbling and acrobatic gymnastics.

Junior Olympic Gymnastics Participants

According to USA Gymnastics, there are more than 91,000 athlete members in the JO program. Almost 75 percent (more than 67,000) are in the women’s artistic gymnastics program.

The Level System

In the JO program levels range from 1-10, with level one as the introductory level with the most basic requirements and skills. Gymnasts progress at their own pace, and in all programs but acrobatic gymnastics (acro), gymnasts must achieve a minimum score in competition in order to progress to the next level. In acro, it is up to the gymnast's coach to decide when s/he is ready for the next level.

A gymnast is not allowed to skip any levels but may compete in more than one level per year in every program but men’s artistic. In men's artistic, athletes compete in one level per year.

In women’s artistic gymnastics, a gymnast must meet the following age minimums to compete:

  • Levels 1 & 2: reached her 4th birthday
  • Level 3: reached her 5th birthday
  • Level 4: reached her 6th birthday
  • Level 5: reached her 7th birthday
  • Level 6: reached her 7th birthday
  • Level 7: reached her 7th birthday
  • Level 8: reached her 8th birthday
  • Level 9: reached her 8th birthday
  • Level 10: reached her 9th birthday

In men’s artistic and rhythmic gymnastics an athlete must have reached his/her sixth birthday to compete at any level. In trampoline, tumbling, and acro there are no age minimums.


Competitions are held at the local, state, regional and national levels. Usually, a gymnast qualifies to each successive level of competition by achieving certain qualifying standards at a smaller competition. For example, a gymnast who achieves a predetermined score at a statewide competition will qualify for the regional competition.

National competitions are only held at the highest competitive levels (levels 9 and 10) in women’s and men’s artistic but are held at lower levels in programs with fewer athlete participants such as tumbling and trampoline.

In many programs, a gymnast doesn’t enter competitions until s/he has reached level 4 or 5.

The Elite Level

After a gymnast has reached level 10 she can attempt to qualify to elite (Olympic-level) competition. Qualifying varies in the different JO programs. In women’s artistic, for example, an athlete must meet a minimum score performing compulsory and optional routines, while in rhythmic gymnastics, a gymnast must place in the top 12 at the level 10 National Championships. The qualifying scores and procedures often vary from year to year as well.

In all programs, though, once a gymnast has reached the elite level, s/he is technically no longer part of the Junior Olympic program. S/he may now be selected to represent the United States in international and other major competitions.

Occasionally, gymnasts at the elite level will opt to "drop back" to JO competition. This happens most often in women's artistic gymnastics if an athlete decides she wants to scale back on training or prepare for college competition instead of continuing on the elite route. Male and female artistic gymnasts can move on to NCAA competition from either the JO or elite program. Katelyn Ohashi, who competed in the Junior Olympic Level 10 National Championships, went on to become a star NCAA gymnast for UCLA.