Juggernaut Oklahoma falls out of NCAA gymnastics semifinals — Simone Biles on ‘Call Her Daddy’ podcast

The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, April 20, 2024

Happy Gymnastics Saturday! I was going to write this newsletter on Thursday night while watching the second round of the NCAA semifinals. I had already watched the first round, in which California and LSU outlasted Arkansas and Stanford. The first semifinal was dramatic in the way that meets with real consequences are dramatic, but the expected result happened.

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We had no reason to suspect that the second semifinal would be any different. Oklahoma was the top seed; had set an NCAA record score just a few weeks earlier (leading to speculation that it might hit the elusive 199 mark in the semis); and had the top vault, bars and beam lineups in the country. The Sooners were out to three-peat at nationals for the first time.

No one’s immune to a bad day in the gym, of course, but Oklahoma weathers a lot that other teams cannot. And that’s largely because it’s consistent to the point of being “boring” — a frequent charge against its high-level work. 

The drama in the second semifinal was supposed to be for the other team headed to Four on the Floor. Florida, Utah and Alabama were all relatively equally matched and all hungry for it.


Oklahoma imploded. There’s no other word for it. And we knew it was happening from the first routine of the first rotation: Faith Torrez’s vault, which she sat. The Sooners finished with three falls and two other major mistakes, and three of the five mistakes came on vault.

I’ve seen teams recover from a mistake; I’ve seen Oklahoma do it. But this was different. The Sooners were off their game, so much so that people were speculating on X that this was the second coming of the Sydney Olympics vault situation (IYKYK).

It wasn’t that, either, though Oklahoma head coach K.J. Kindler did demand repairs to the beam midway through the competition, after Alabama had its own splatfest on that event. (For the record, NCAA vault settings are changed for every gymnast, so it is unlikely that one off setting would cause the chain reaction that happened.)

Kindler said after the meet that her squad had not had to endure any high-pressure situations all season, or any at all where it was at a strong disadvantage, which I think is the right take. Perhaps there was some overconfidence, too, mixed with the unfamiliar sensation of being behind and then overcompensating for that. 

At any rate, it was quite the spectacle. The Washington Post’s gymnastics writer, Emily Giambalvo, even called Oklahoma’s failure to advance a “stunning collapse.” 

As previously mentioned, Alabama, which looked great on bars in the first rotation, melted down completely on the beam. It had four falls there, three of which counted. One was by Luisa Blanco, a team stalwart and former NCAA champion on the event. For Alabama, that was the end. 

Meanwhile, Florida and Utah — two teams whose nerves have gotten the best of them in postseasons past — advanced to Saturday’s final. The Gators and the Utes each overcame a non-counting fall and stayed steady on all events.

Oklahoma being eliminated means that a head coach who has never won a national championship will take one home this season, which is exciting stuff. 

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Other gym news

Spencer at the Balance Beam Situation is out of commission with health problems. We wish him a speedy recovery and also a hand to hold if he rewatches the second semifinal anytime soon. 

College Gym News has liveblogs of the first and second semifinals and a piece about commentating team John Roethlisberger and Aly Raisman, who covered the semis and will also cover the final. 

College Gym News also has the results, which it will update through Saturday’s final, and the projected All-Americans

College Gym News also has a rundown of the individual competitors who performed Thursday, and a separate profile of Missouri’s Mara Titarsolej. It also has a rundown of the USAG nationals last week. (My apologies to those fierce competitors I didn’t properly acknowledge when I referred last week to the NCAA’s “dead week.”)

Transfer portal entries are starting now that the regular season is over. These include NIU’s Emmalise Nock and her teammate Jenna Blair.

Gabby Douglas hopes for a comeback at American Classic, she told NBC Sports

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Justice Department will pay 100 survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse a total of $100 million after the FBI’s documented failures to investigate the allegations against him properly. (Paywall alert.)

Social post of the week

Kathy Johnson Clarke provided commentary for Georgia’s Lily Smith during Smith’s final practice before heading to nationals as an individual. It’s adorable. And awesome. 

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Five at The IX: Simone Biles on ‘Call Her Daddy’

Simone Biles was perhaps the most open and frank about her life and the events at the Tokyo Olympics that we’ve ever heard in an interview on Alex Cooper’s podcast “Call Her Daddy” this week.

In the video clip below, Biles discusses the Tokyo Olympics and the negativity that surrounded her after it. You can also listen to the whole thing here, and you should.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Lela Moore