Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
For gymnastics fans, January means only one thing: NCAA gymnastics. In my past few articles, I’ve talked about elite gymnasts and their goals of getting to the Olympics. College gymnastics is very different from elite. In contrast to elite, NCAA gymnastics is all about enthusiasm and team spirit. Each team has its own personality and style, and the meets are much more interactive than traditional elite meets.
In many ways, college gymnastics is a lot easier and more exciting to follow than elite. Teams compete almost every weekend, so there’s always gymnastics to watch. Teams qualify to regional and national championships based on their scores throughout the season. The national championship, The Super Six, is in late April. The national champion is the team that scores the highest on this day.
Unlike elite, which includes a separate difficulty and execution score, each routine in NCAA gymnastics is scored out of a 10.0. A team puts up six gymnasts on each event and the top five scores count. The maximum score each team can get for any particular event is a 50.0 and the highest final score is a 200.0. One of the most exciting parts of this scoring system is that gymnasts can and do get perfect scores. Towards the end of the season, gymnasts get perfect tens fairly regularly.
There are many different types of gymnasts competing in the NCAA. Most are former level 10s (the highest level before elite), but there are also increasing numbers of former elites joining the mix. Many elites consider competing in college to be a fun and relaxed way to continue competing as they get older—and they can get a free education in the process.
So who are the best teams? Oklahoma and Florida tied for the championship last year, and LSU followed close behind. LSU has been getting better and better and they definitely have the chance to win a championship this year. Historically, only a few teams have won championships: UCLA, Alabama, Utah, and Georgia. However, in the past few years, new teams have been breaking into the top. Florida and Oklahoma are probably the two best teams again this year.
UCLA is my favorite team to watch. Their floor routines always have unique choreography because their coach, Valorie Kondos Field, is a former ballet dancer. The team also includes standout gymnast Sam Peszek, 2008 Olympic team member. Florida is a fan favorite and exciting to watch because they have many former elites, including 2009 World Champion Bridget Sloan, who unfortunately suffered a severe sprained ankle at the meet last weekend.
Check out a college meet or two and see if you enjoy it. If you’re already a gymnastics fan, it’s an awesome way to watch some of your favorite former elites and get to see more than a few big meets a year. College gymnastics is completely different from the gymnastics most of us are used to watching, and in my opinion it’s much friendlier for a new gymnastics fan. The atmosphere is similar to that of other college sports—meets draw large crowds and huge cheers.
If you’re interested in watching a meet, The Gymternet has excellent NCAA coverage, including schedules, links to live streams, and recaps and analysis every week.
Featured image courtesy of http://www.uclabruins.com.