With the Summer Games kicking off in London Town, Houston is busy hosting a batch of young athletes itself for the 2012 Junior Olympics, the largest annual competition held by the American Athletic Union (AAU).
On Thursday, CultureMap stopped by the George R. Brown — one of the main venues along with the Pearland Natatorium and the track facility at Humble High School — to catch a glimpse of America's future Olympic hopefuls.
"There have been a few records here this morning," explained jump rope coach Priscilla Zellner. "Alrea dy a girl jumped 174 times and a boy did 178 . . . and the competition is on for three more days."
First up was powerlifting, a sport that was surprisingly dominated by 13-year-old Beth-el Algarin from Minnesota when CultureMap arrived. Her father and coach Luis Algarin cheered from the sidelines along with several other of his children, who were also competing in the weightlifting event.
"We travel all over the country in this 1990 van we call the White Elephant," he laughed. "We drove from just north of Minneapolis to Houston and it started stalling out right in from of the convention center when we got here. Still it was a lot better than when the A/C broke during last year's games in New Orleans."
Beth-el has racked up numerous world records in her weight class since she started lifting almost four years ago. Luis predicted she'd get a few more before the day was through.
Upstairs, hundreds of boys and girls between the ages of about 10 and 16 had victory in their eyes as they skipped rope as many times as possible in a minute.
Members of the Glory Girls, a team from Georgia, told CultureMap most jumpers aim for about 150 skips. "There have been a few records here this morning," explained coach Priscilla Zellner. "Already a girl jumped 174 times and a boy did 178 . . . and the competition is on for three more days."
Across the hall, tumbling and trampoline events covered what had to be more than an acre of exhibition space.
"I was always flipping and tumbling when I was a kid but I never took gymnastics or anything," said Kimberly Miller, whose 9-year-old daughter waited to compete on the mats. "I'm telling you, Alexa must have the gift. She's only been doing this a year and a half and she's made it to the Junior Olympics. We can't believe it."
The 2012 Junior Olympics run through Aug. 4. Visit the AAU website for details.