When Olivia Karas entered her freshman season at the University of Michigan, she quickly established herself as a fierce and talented competitor. Since then, she has accrued a laundry list of accomplishments: two-time NACGC/W All-America, 2016 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and 2017 Big Ten floor champion. She’s collected 29 career event and all-around titles, scored 9.900 or better on 41 career routines, and twice earned U-M Academic Achievement recognition. Just to name a few.
Last year, an achilles injury ended Karas’ 2018 season prematurely, but with the first few meets of 2019 under her belt, she’s back and as good as ever. Now a senior, Karas appears poised for one last incredible year. FloGymnastics caught up with Karas to discuss her comeback, favorite skills to throw and some of her favorite memories from her time at Michigan.
Since your injury and being out for a year, has your approach to training changed at all?
A little bit, it’s been a lot more [focused on being] aware I guess. Aware of numbers, aware of not overloading too much, but also not favoring the other side. Making sure I’m being equally aggressive on both legs. That was the big thing initially coming back, because it was definitely obvious that I was favoring the left side and I would hardly punch off my right foot and everyone was like, “You need to figure that out or you’re going to injure your left side.” So it’s definitely been more detail-oriented and focused. Everything’s come back pretty easily and it’s been going really well, so I’m actually very impressed and surprised by that.
You didn’t compete floor for your first meet, what’s your plan for the rest of the season?
At Alabama [the third meet of the season], I actually ended up competing floor. [My coach] was like, “Can you do a floor routine?” and I was like “Yeah, I just can’t do my double pike for my last pass,” so instead I did a double full. It was super cool to do floor again, and the same thing happened when we were at home last weekend. Definitely working towards getting the strength and endurance up to do a real floor routine without watering down the last pass, and it’s definitely going really well, so I’m excited about the future of that.
What’s your favorite event to compete?
Floor for sure, but I’ve definitely grown into liking beam. When I first came into college, beam kinda scared me, but then I started doing more here and understanding that it’s more like a floor routine than people think. There’s a lot of performance to it and I’ve started liking it more, so that’s been a really cool change since I got to college. But for sure floor is the most fun to compete.
I feel like that happens a lot when people go to college, everyone seems to get better at beam.
Yeah there’s something about the training that changes, when it’s more detail-oriented stuff, so I like that.
What’s your favorite skill, one that you’ve either competed or just thrown in the gym?
Wow, that’s hard. I love gainer pikes off beam. I don't know why. It’s such a random thing, but I think it’s so fun. And I’ve always loved double Arabians on floor. I have always enjoyed them ever since I’ve been doing them. Definitely those two.
Arabians are crazy.
Yeah, I have to not think about it, it just has to happen [laughs].
Most teams usually have a philosophy going into competition season—what is Michigan’s for 2019?
We like to say “Can’t break steel,” because we’ve been through a good amount of things this preseason and this year, so we call ourselves unbreakable in that anything that comes towards us we can fight it and be fine. [We can] just lean on each other and find a singularity in gymnastics and get rid of all the outside things. So that's something we[’ve] use to fuel us recently. I really like that because you can take it in so many different ways, like you can’t break yourself down, can’t break the team down, and like anything, so I like that a lot.
Which meet are you most looking forward to this season?
Oh, that’s hard. I always look forward to every meet, especially since it’s my last year so I’m trying to soak it all in, but I’m excited for our purple meet against Nebraska, Flip For Chip. It’s the meet that we use to honor our old teammate Cailey Hills’ father Chip Hills, who passed away from pancreatic cancer, so that’s a really emotional and special one for all of us. It’s always really nice because all the parents wear purple and we get shirts for it. Everyone just kinda comes together for it so that’s a really exciting meet for all of us, that just has a bigger meaning than just gymnastics.
Sounds like a nice cause, and one close to the team’s heart.
Yeah. I mean obviously you never want something to happen that causes you to do something like this, but we’ve turned such a sad situation into something really great.
What’s your favorite memory with the team so far?
I think it’s kind of cliche, but we went to Cancun this year and that was so much fun. It was our first time traveling and we got to do a lot of fun things while we were there. We also had a great meet so that also helps, but the day after we got to go on this excursion on a boat and do all this fun stuff so that was really cool.
We also have a Christmas party every year. We do secret Santa and we all try to do funny gifts. It’s always a blast to see what people thought of getting other people. So I would say those are two things that were really fun this year.
Sophia Scazzero is a former Division I gymnast and freelance writer who writes about gymnastics, sports issues, and more. You can follow her on Twitter.