This has not been the best of times for USA Gymnastics. And there’s no need to recount how bad it’s been, line by terrible line. All you have to do is search Larry Nasser and the scope of the horrific problem becomes apparent. It’s been awful and the sport’s age of innocence has paid a great price.
But over the weekend, a UCLA gymnast, Katelyn Ohashi, once a top-flight candidate for USA national teams, refocused the attention to where it should be – the incredible athleticism of the athletes.
With some hops, skips and a few improbable jumps and splits, Ohashi’s routine took a wild ride on social media that has transformed her into the most talked about athlete in the United States over the last four days.
If you have not seen it, take the time and find it. Even if you can’t tell a high beam from a night light, you can see what is happening. She floats and flies and bounces and smiles, always smiling, during a floor routine that made those who witnessed and judged it tingle. It was that good.
Choreography really isn’t our specialty here, but this had to be gymnastics version of Jordan taking off at the floor line and tomahawking. It defied gravity as much as logic. And she did it to the beat of a few Michael Jackson hits and some R&B toe-tappers.
Oh yes, she got a 10, the sixth of her collegiate career. And that’s only because no one had a card with 20 on it.
The forum for the routine was the Collegiate Challenge in Anaheim, Calif. The senior moved her way through “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “I Want You Back” by the Jackson Five and Earth Wind and Fire’s September.
“Her whole floor routine is ridiculously hard,” UCLA Women’s Gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field told the school newspaper. “Every single thing about it including the backward split that she does after her leap pass — it’s insane.”
You probably missed it: She actually debuted the routine on Jan. 4 in a meet against Nebraska. But on Saturday, UCLA Gymnastics tweeted a video of Ohashi’s flight of fancy entitled, “A 10 isn’t enough for this floor routine.” And they were right.
By Monday, 23,999,999 wasn’t enough, either. The tweet had been viewed 24 million views, including once or twice by California Sen. Kamala Harris. Producers from the morning talk shows have been losing their minds trying to book her. Good Morning America had her Thursday.
And now, could it be? The sport may be back where it was during the glory days of Shannon Miller, Mary Lou Retton, Dominque Dawes and Gabby Douglas.
What’s most ironic about this may be that Ohashi almost dropped the sport because of burn out from Olympics training after spending four years on the junior national team. At 16, she won the 2013 American Cup, beating 2016 Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, a very big deal in the sport.
Then came the breaking point: In a Players’ Tribune video, she admitted she’d been competing with a fractured back and torn shoulders. She was mocked by some calling her a bird that could not fly.
“I think gymnastics can be a really brutal sport,” said Ohashi in the video. “I don’t think it’s supposed to be a brutal sport.” She admitted she hated herself.
But the she decided to scale things back and compete in college and the pilot light burned red again. She won the NCAA Championship for the floor exercise with the Bruins, who won the National Championship.
Who knew? Now we all know.
“Floor is where I get to express myself,” Ohashi told NBC . “That’s like, my party time, like my play time.”
At last year’s Pac-12 Championships, she won the floor exercise competition that featured a Jackson moonwalk. That only received 4.5 million views on You Tube.
“In life we are told to do or be so many different things and expected to fit so many different expectations; I think that’s something I always had a hard time with,” Ohashi wrote in a 2017 blog post about athlete body shaming.
“Women are ‘expected’ to have skinny waists, yet still be voluptuous. People surrounding us tell us we need to eat but then look at us in disgust if we cross the invisible line of overeating. …Ignoring the opinions of those around me and focusing on what I believe in has been one of the greatest impacts on saving me. Why should we allow anyone else to dictate how we feel about ourselves?”