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Olympians Bring Home Individual Titles At NCAA Gymnastics Championships

by Blythe Lawrence

Sunisa Lee competes during the women's balance beam final during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 3, 2021 in Tokyo.

 

At an NCAA Gymnastics Championships increasingly headlined by Olympians, Trinity Thomas is the best in the nation — three times over.

A perfect 10 on floor exercise helped Thomas, a senior at Florida, edge Olympic all-around champion Sunisa Lee for the NCAA all-around title Thursday at the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships in Fort Worth, Texas. 
The margin of error was slim. Lee, whose freshman season at Auburn has been filled with high expectations and history-making successes, was second by a mere 0.1375 points. She also earned her first NCAA title, on balance beam, with a near-perfect 9.9625.
Thomas, who also won uneven bars and floor exercise, is one of the few gymnasts who has successfully combined being a member of the U.S. national team while maintaining excellence throughout her NCAA career. An ankle injury sustained during her junior year ended her bid for the Tokyo Olympic team, and she retired from elite competition in May 2021.
Though among the first to attempt balancing NCAA and elite level gymnastics, Thomas is almost certainly not the last. The field in Fort Worth included four U.S. Olympians in Lee, Tokyo 2020 Olympic floor champion Jade Carey, now competing for Oregon State, Utah’s Grace McCallum, and Jordan Chiles, who reps UCLA. 
And at least two of them are itching to return to elite competition. 
Carey was fourth overall Thursday, and landed in a five-way tie for second on uneven bars. McCallum, 14th all-around, was part of another mega-tie for seventh on floor. Chiles, who competed only on bars and floor, was 14th on floor. A fall on bars led her to finish outside the top 30.
Carey announced last week that she intended to pursue a spot on the national team while competing for Oregon State next year. Chiles hopes to challenge for the world championships team this fall.
Lee, who has been vocal about making a run at the Paris 2024 Olympic team, may soon follow suit. Auburn coach Jeff Graba said this week that he would be meeting with Lee to discuss plans for after the NCAA championships, including how she might potentially combine NCAA and elite.
Women’s NCAA results are not necessarily indicative of how a gymnast will do in elite. That Carey, the Olympic floor champion, was 18th on floor in Fort Worth highlights a key difference between NCAA and elite gymnastics. 
In the NCAA, 10 is the maximum score a gymnast can receive, no matter how much difficulty a gymnast puts into his or her routine. In elite, where the scoring is open-ended, a gymnast like Carey earns massive bonus points for difficulty, a strategy she has capitalized on to excellent effect on the international stage.
Tokyo Olympian Brody Malone, a senior at Stanford, won the high bar title outright as the Cardinal collected its third consecutive NCAA men’s championship Saturday night in Norman, Oklahoma. 
Malone, the reigning U.S. champion who has won the NCAA title twice, battled Paul Juda of Michigan for the all-around crown but ultimately fell half a point shy of Juda’s 85.298. Malone, the only member of the 2020 U.S. men’s Olympic team still competing in college, closed out his NCAA career with top three finishes on floor and pommel horse, where he shared the top score with Chase Clingman of Penn State.


Blythe Lawrence has covered four Olympic Games and is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. Follow her on Twitter @rockergymnastix.
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