Elite season is on with the U.S. Classic this weekend — Other gym news — Thoughts from Rebekah Bean Ripley
The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, August 5, 2023
Happy gymnastics Saturday! Elite season is upon us with the U.S. Classic (technically, the Core Hydration Classic, but that’s a bit clunky) this weekend. And it’s a history-making event, marking the first time since the 1960s that two Olympic all-around champions will compete at the same event. Simone Biles returns to competition for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, and Sunisa Lee returns to elite competition for the first time since winning her all-around gold in Tokyo.
And for once, I’m writing about a major competition before it actually begins! Podium training is taking place Friday as I’m turning this piece in (indeed, I am watching it while doing a final edit here), and the junior women will have competed Friday evening, but the senior women’s competition takes place today, Saturday, August 5, in two parts. The first session will be held from 2-4 p.m. ET, and you can watch it on CNBC or Peacock (or YouTube if you are not in the United States). The second session, which will feature both Biles and Lee, will be from 8-10 p.m. ET, on the same set of channels.
The broadcast will probably focus heavily on Biles and Lee. I’m stoked to see both of them compete and am particularly eager to see if Biles does the Yurchenko double pike vault here. But my focus will be on the first session and how the newer crop of senior gymnasts stacks up against the more experienced crew and those returning from NCAA. Joscelyn Roberson and Tiana Sumanasekera are two gymnasts in particular I imagine will be challenging the likes of Biles and Lee for Olympic spots next year. We may well see a 2024 team of veterans, but if that’s the case, expect these two and several others to return for a shot in 2028 after completing their NCAA careers. We will see, starting in the run-up to the Paris Olympics, how NCAA competition benefits elite competitors like Jade Carey, Leanne Wong and Kayla DiCello. But, by 2028, I think it will be a no-brainer for young female gymnasts to compete at both the NCAA and elite levels and to make their Olympic teams later in their careers than in the past. We’re moving away from the era of the 16-year-old prodigy who is never heard from again after the Olympics, and it’s an exciting time to be a gym fan.
I’ll have a full recap of the U.S. Classic for you next week.
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Other gym news
Teams were announced for the 2024 edition of the Super 16 meet, billed as “the largest women’s college gymnastics event in the country.” It will be held January 5-7 in Las Vegas. Let’s hope they’ll actually let us watch it this year…
How Diamond Cook landed a spot on Talladega State’s gymnastics team is a great story.
Per The Athletic, NCAA athletes will soon receive two post-eligibility years of injury insurance coverage.
Courtney McCool Griffeth is now (officially) LSU’s new assistant coach. McCool Griffeth has been a volunteer coach there for a few years and now she can get paid!
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Sami Durante was hired as an assistant coach at UNC, where her mom Danna is the head coach.
Kylie Kratchwell became an assistant coach at Arizona.
Mickayla Stuckey is now an assistant coach at Ohio State.
And Rachel David is an assistant coach at Iowa.
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And Rebekah Hill became an assistant coach at UC Davis.
Stanford’s Chloe Widner, going into her fifth year, is training some fun stuff.
Nike is now USA Gymnastic’s official apparel sponsor. I have feelings on this that I’m going to have to explore when U.S. Classic is not happening.
Five at The IX: Rebekah Bean Ripley
You will know Rebekah Bean Ripley instantly if you recall last season’s viral floor routine choreographed to “Barbie Girl.”
Hi Barbie! (IYKYK) Ripley, 23, a native of St. George, Utah, graduated from Brigham Young University in April — she celebrated by jumping off the vault in her robes — with a degree in advertising. She is working as a gymnastics coach and choreographer while job hunting for a role as an art director for an ad agency. She lives in Utah with her husband Joshua, whom she married in August 2020.
And yes, Ripley has seen “Barbie” twice, outfitted in pink both times. I initially contacted Ripley at the end of the NCAA season for an interview, after I saw a TikTok of her unboxing a gift from Mattel (which she discusses below). Ripley didn’t see it initially because my message went into her Instagram spam, but reached out to me last week. It happened to be the day after I saw “Barbie,” and I was reveling in the hot pinkness of it all and said I hoped she was too. Happily, Ripley agreed to chat and here we are! This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Your Barbie-themed routine went viral last season. Did you know the movie was coming out when you choreographed it, and were you expecting the huge, positive response to the routine?
RBR: I choreographed my Barbie routine before I knew the Barbie movie was coming out! That timing was simply good luck.
My teammates and coaches always told me they thought my routine would go viral. I thought that would be cool, but ultimately didn’t know if it would happen. Especially since I hadn’t competed in three and a half years because of two ACL tears and two meniscus tears. But wow, I overcame the injuries and finally got to perform again!
The first routine I competed was not nearly my best work. I remember being so nervous, I almost threw up multiple times. But to my surprise… it went viral! ESPN, Cougar Nation, People Magazine, and many others were sharing my routine! I could hardly believe it. I remember being slightly embarrassed because that routine wasn’t my best, and not quite how I wanted the world to see it first, but ultimately I was very happy and eager to do even better!
Were/are you a Barbie fan, and have you seen the movie? If so, what did you think?
RBR: I’ve always been a huge Barbie fan! Pink has always been my favorite color. And I grew up playing with Barbies and Polly Pockets all the time. So going to the Barbie movie opening week was a no-brainer. I was absolutely amazed at the set design, costuming, makeup, everything! The movie was truly an artistic masterpiece. I have a background as a production and set designer as well as my art direction background. So seeing such incredible artistic work made me so unbelievably happy and giddy.
Your video when Mattel sent you a Barbie package was the best. What was that like, realizing how much reach your gymnastics routine had?
RBR: Months ago, when [Mattel] sent me a package I couldn’t believe it. Barbie. One of the biggest toy companies in the world saw my routine, personally wrote me a note and gifted me a gymnastics Barbie. That moment felt like a dream come true. It was so thoughtful and something that they definitely did not have to do. I will forever be grateful and thankful to Barbie for that. The only thing that would have made that moment even better would have been if that gymnastics Barbie was actually me!
You get to create your own Barbie. What would it be called?
RBR: if I actually had my own Barbie, I would call her the BYU Gymnast Barbie. And of course, her name would have to be Rebekah!
The non-Barbie question: What’s next for you now that your BYU gym career has ended?
RBR: Right now, life is more different than it ever has been. I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life being a student and a gymnast. And now that chapter of my life has ended. It’s definitely weird to not have to wake up early to train or to study, but for the most part, I’m enjoying the freedom and flexibility of life. What’s next for me is to figure out my new normal and move on to other things I’m passionate about! I’m excited to have more time for hobbies and being with friends and family. My goal is to get a job as an art director or a production designer.
I couldn’t have had such an amazing gymnastics career without the support of my friends and family. I especially thank my husband who has been there for me through my highest highs and my lowest lows that gymnastics brought me. I’m excited to see what life has in store for us as we move forward together. Thank you for reading!
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