Oklahoma wins a sixth national championship in nine years — Other gym news — Thoughts from Trinity Thomas

The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, Apr. 22, 2023

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I’ll have what Oklahoma is having. 

Six NCAA team championships in nine years, as of last Saturday. Thirteen individual titles in that same timeframe, including three in the all-around. 

If you missed it, it’s all on YouTube: 

This is going to sound like a slam, but it’s not: Oklahoma gymnastics prizes consistency in execution over just about everything else, including difficulty, three-pass floor routines, and, much to the chagrin of the gymternet, individuality.

But you know what? It works. 

There are many NCAA teams on which we feel we know each gymnast personally and who take pains to establish individual gymnasts’ personalities through their routines. UCLA stands out as one, but you could say the same for most of the top teams. 

Oklahoma is the exception, but they also win nationals more than anyone else. So who’s to say it isn’t a winning strategy, even if it’s a less attractive strategy to the collective eye of many fans? 

Gymnasts at OU also have a striking record of returning from injury not just to competition, but winning. Olivia Trautman, most notably, began the 2023 season as a student volunteer coach. She was a few months out of knee surgery and was being urged by some doctors to medically retire from the sport. Fast forward to Thursday night in Fort Worth, when Trautman won the NCAA vault title. 

Ragan Smith came to Oklahoma in 2019, a year before she was expected, having bowed out of elite due to injuries — most notably to her ankle, which never fully recovered, it seemed, from the injury she incurred just before the all-around final at 2017 worlds. In 2022, Smith’s beam routine clinched the national title for the Sooners. During the 2023 regular season, she got her first perfect 10 on the event for which she’s best known and continued to deliver on bars and floor. Smith has hinted that she’s training vault in preparation for a possible fifth year — something most gymnastics insiders would not have thought possible for her five years ago. 

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Compared to their Four on the Floor rivals this year, Oklahoma looked noticeably less injured — and was better able to work around the injuries they did have — overall. LSU was essentially held together with tape and wishes. Florida was still reeling from Trinity Thomas’ injury in regionals and Utah from Grace McCallum’s midseason knee injury. 

And it may have made the difference in their victory. 

The other thing we have to discuss besides Oklahoma’s winning is college gymnastics winning the TV ratings. Per ESPN, the 2023 edition of Four on the Floor, aired on ABC, was the most-watched college gym meet ever on the ESPN family of platforms and the most-watched college meet on any network since 2007. 

More than a million viewers tuned in for nattys, up 10 percent from 2022. The semifinals broadcasts, aired Thursday on ESPN2,  garnered 46% more viewers than in 2022. 

Last year, you may recall, ABC bumped Four on the Floor to accommodate an NFL game, and then the gymnastics meet blew the hockey right out of the water (off the ice?), viewership-wise. It seems ABC learned from that and gave gymnastics its moment in the sun last week. 

Anecdotally, the last few pieces I have written about college gymnastics for various sports publications that don’t typically cover gymnastics have all gotten more page views than my editors expected. I think the demand for gymnastics content is out there, and hopefully the supply will come. 

And finally, at least for this NCAA season, a huge congratulations to the legendary Trinity Thomas of Florida, who tied the collegiate perfect 10 record on the final vault (and penultimate routine) of her career. More on that in Five at The IX, below! 

Congratulations to Oklahoma for a job well done, and to Florida, Utah and LSU for bringing the competition this year. (And to UCLA, Kentucky, Cal and Denver for bringing the drama to the semifinals). I have to switch over to elite mode soon, although I think we’re going to see a lot of gymnast transfers and a few coach switcheroos in the coming weeks, and I’ll make sure to keep you posted on those! 

Other gym news

A wonderful, and important, story on the rise of the queer female gymnast. Kalyany Steele, Savannah Schoenherr and Blake and Kino from the Half In, Half Out podcast (and former Five at The IX interviewees) are quoted. 

I mentioned transfers and new coaches above…Jillian Hoffman, late of Utah, has entered the transfer portal. This season will be her fifth year. Hoffman put the news in an Instagram Story:

And Pitt has a new coach. Casey Jo MacPherson will take the reins there next season. MacPherson was a star gymnast for Arkansas and did wonders on the coaching staffs at Western Michigan and Missouri. This is a really exciting announcement and I’m eager to see how Pitt performs next year and onward.

This is a really cool chart from Reddit user u/dwellondreams, showing what percentage of their rosters each of the top 24 NCAA women’s gymnastics teams used this season. I wasn’t surprised that Denver, for example, used 86% of its roster this year since they run a tight ship, but I was surprised to see that LSU used nearly 80% of theirs given the gymternet narrative that they don’t dive very deeply into it. Time to reframe, I guess. Biggest surprise: Arkansas using 100% of their roster! Nice move by head coach Jordyn Wieber there. 

Kentucky will compete in the legendary Rupp Arena next season as their usual venue undergoes renovations. 

Hezly Rivera spoke to the Olympic Channel about her frightening slip on the vault at Junior Worlds and her aspirations for Paris. 

A great blog from The Medal Count about the Dutch team’s performance at Euros last week. 

CW: Eating disorders

Kim Bui spoke to the Olympic Channel about her newly-published autobiography that details her battle with bulimia, letting fellow ED survivors know “you are not alone.” 

Social post of the week

Margzetta Frazier vlogged Nattys. Enough said. 

Five at The IX: Trinity Thomas

Samantha Peszek, reporting for ESPN, interviewed Florida Gator legend Trinity Thomas last Saturday after Thomas tied the perfect 10 record during nationals. Thomas joins Jamie Dantzcher of UCLA and Jenny Hansen of Kentucky as the holder of 28 career 10s. It was quite a comeback for Thomas, who suffered a lower-leg injury during Florida’s floor rotation at the regional semifinal and was day-to-day right up until she nailed that Yurchenko 1.5 in the national final. 

SP: Congratulations on a phenomenal career. You tied the perfect 10 record, getting 28 perfect 10s in your career. How did you do it, knowing there was so much pressure on the line? 

TT: I was not focused on that at all. I was just focused on being out here one last time with my team. They mean the world to me and we left it all out here on the floor and I could not be more proud of us. 

SP: Your team was yelling “GOAT!” when you got off the floor for the very last time. How did that make you feel? 

TT: Super special. I owe it all to them, like, I couldn’t do it all by myself. I can’t do anything by myself. So the Lord and my family and friends have helped me all along the way. 

SP: You’ve had such a phenomenal career. How would you sum it up? 

TT: I don’t even know how to sum it up. It’s just been the best time of my life, honestly. The fifth year has been a blessing, and I’m going to miss gymnastics so much, but I couldn’t be more thankful. 

SP: Well, I know you left a legacy on this sport, so congratulations, not just today, but for a phenomenal career. 

TT: Thank you so much. 

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Written by Lela Moore