Attention sports that aren’t gymnastics: you could learn something from college gymnastics.
Fort Worth hosted the National Collegiate Women’s Gymnastics Championship over the weekend. It featured some great storylines, like UCLA, home to viral floor exercise sensation Katelyn Ohashi, trying to repeat in Coach Valorie Kondos Field’s final season; 2016 and 2017 champ Oklahoma, undefeated and led by defending All-Around champion Maggie Nichols (who had battled injuries) trying to justify their number one ranking and win it after UCLA edged them out last year; Perennial power LSU, runner-up two of the last three years, trying to finally win it all. Plus underdog stories and more.
And on top of that, these gymnasts perform spectacular athletic feats. Up and down the rosters, errors were very much the exception, with aerial excellence and stuck dismounts the norm.
But other sports have drama and storylines and underdogs. And superb exhibitions of athleticism. That’s kind of why we watch sports (along with keeping up with your fantasy team).
No, the NCAA variety of artistic gymnastics presented a couple of positives I really liked. First, within each rotation, you get continuous action. Glance over to see OU’s Brenna Dowell crush a vault and you might miss the likes of LSU’s Sarah Finnegan scoring 9.95 on the uneven parallel bars. With a team constantly competing on one of four events, you’ve always got something to watch.
If you do miss something, don’t worry. While the NCAA doesn’t show replays in its video board, the crowd will swiftly alert you if something went wrong or right. A gymnastics crowd supplies ample school spirit and whichever’s team’s gymnast nailed a landing can expect a loud eruption from its supporters. That leads me to a second thing I liked about the event: In addition to witnessing no video replay officials, mound visits, or intentional fouls, I also heard no booing.
That’s not to say such things don’t occasionally happen in the sport. But an atmosphere where people almost constantly have something to cheer about involving their own team means little chance to issue catcalls to others, or even to deride their own athletes (though at this level the run of tremendous performances would scarcely inspire jeering in any case).
Sportsmanship showed up in other areas as well. Opposing fans clapped for remarkable achievements by opposing squads’ athletes. When individual competitors from non-qualifying schools competed without their regular teammates on Friday, the groups with whom the outliers rotated cheered for and encouraged them. And within each team, hugs and high-fives were plentiful. It is way cool to watch teammates mimicking their colleague’s floor exercise moves from the sidelines as they shout encouragement.
Oklahoma did end up winning the title in Fort Worth. We nearly had drama when the Sooners’ Evy Schoepfer posted the day’s lowest score after stepping out of bounds on her floor exercise routine. Second-place LSU was putting on a charge, but the rest of the OU floor routines were stellar and they closed out a championship with Saturday’s top aggregate score on the vault.
The Sooners won in Cowtown in 2016 and repeated the accomplishment on Saturday before a Fort Worth Convention Center crowd of more than 8500, a championship session record. With the city set to host the event in Dickie’s Arena through 2022, I’d encourage administrators and fans of other sports to check it out. You’ll probably enjoy yourself and you just might learn a thing or two.