One of the main reasons I love gymnastics is because it is a unique sport in that, to someone who has never spent any time training in it, it truly looks impossible. Unless you know what it takes to do at least some of the basic skills, watching girls at the higher levels compete can be like the physical equivalent of trying to understand a foreign language.
However, it’s not just the layman who can be confused by the sport. Most gymnasts themselves (unless you are the likes of Simone Biles) can name certain skills in the sport that they could never imagine doing, because they just don’t make sense. Even though I was a gymnast myself, there are more than a few skills that I look at and wonder how on earth these girls are doing them. Sure, in most cases one can understand what it would take to perform it, but yet they still don’t make sense to me. You can understand how someone does it, but not how someone does it. With this in mind I have compiled a list of some skills that have been performed in NCAA competition in the past few years that I can’t make sense of:
Katelyn Ohashi (UCLA): Double-layout split leg on floor (at 0:05 in the video below). Personally, I didn’t even know you could do a split leg in your double lay-out. The concept never occurred to me. I have never seen anyone train that, let alone compete it, until Ohashi. The skill in itself makes sense, just how one can do a layout step out our of a rudi or in a series on beam. But it’s still wild to throw in with a double-layout. It’s quite graceful looking and I hope we see more of those in the future.
Her second pass (0:15 in this video) is also of note because it has so many different elements. Separately, they are all pretty run-of-the-mill, but together it’s a crazy non-stop bounce fest. I had to pause the video just to make sure I caught all of the elements, and after about the fourth time I was able to. Here they are: round-off, back 1.5, front full, front half, split jump, punch front. Whew. That’s just a lot.
Brenna Dowell (Oklahoma): Front handspring double pike on floor (0:14 in the video below). The skill in concept is simple enough, but there’s a reason she’s the only one competing it in NCAA gymnastics. Double fronts on their own are hard to get enough power for, and the fact that she can get enough power from just a handspring is impressive. Add in the piked position and it gets even harder, since you need even more power and rotation to get that around without hyperextending your knees or worse. It’s incredibly impressive. For me it is almost painful to watch, when I watch it I feel it in my shins.
Also on beam, her full-twisting back handspring (at 0:29 in the video below). I understand the concept, it’s just the idea of being able to do that on the beam and not mess up the hand placement or crash on your head is crazy. It pretty much seems impossible.
Danusia Francis (UCLA): Side aerial sideways on the beam (at 1:19 in video). I will never forget this skill and had to include it in this list. Like not traveling the length of the apparatus; starting and ending the skill in the same place. And then dismounting from it. This one is just absolutely madness. There is a reason she’s the only one to do it. Blows my mind every time.
Peng Peng Lee (UCLA): Pak full on bars (at 0:18 in the video below). Lee graduated in 2018, but her bar routine is legendary. Not even sure how that rotation works, every time I try to make sense of it in my head, I just envision myself slamming into the floor or the bar. It is a gorgeous move, and looks like the beautiful child of a shoot-over and a Pak.
Also: Her beam mount (0:18 in the video below). It’s that usual move that guys do on the pommel horse, circling your legs around and hopping your hands between swinging legs, but on the beam. I don’t know if any of you have tried it, but it’s incredibly hard, and I bet even more difficult on the smaller surface area of the balance beam.
Sarah Finnegan (LSU): Wolf turn on the beam (0:12 in the video). We’ve seen this for a few years in elite, but it’s just now popping up more in college gymnastics. It’s harder than it looks even though it’s just a turn. It’s some real witchcraft regarding center of gravity.
MyKayla Skinner (Utah): Double-double on floor (0:30 in video below). This one isn’t uncommon in the elite world, (in fact Skinner is now training for the 2020 Olympics, so that fits), but it’s still a skill that looks crazy to me. The amount of spotting it must take to do a full twist on both rotations is incredible. I don’t get it.
Rachel Baumann (Georgia): Side aerial to back layout step-out (0:17 in video below). This one is so cool, she makes it look gorgeous even though it’s one of the most difficult series out there. You don’t see this one very often.
McKenna Kelley (LSU): Front handspring pike 1/2 vault. I’m going to be blown away by any front entry vault, since personally I can’t imagine getting that much power out of a front handspring. But these vaults are so cool and I always love seeing a vault that’s not a Yurchenko in competition.
Anyone that does those straddle/straight vault bar mounts.
They are so cool looking and I cannot for the life of me figure them out, so hats off to all of the gymnasts that do them.
Frankly, hats off to all of these NCAA gymnasts that make this crazy sport look so easy. People can watch and critique toe points or steps on landings, but what it takes so much to do even the simplest skills in this sport. Things like double backs may be considered a basic tumbling pass, but the fact is it’s still a double backwards flip, and that’s pretty metal.