Every year, a number of gymnasts make the transition from elite to collegiate gymnastics, and although the sport is technically the same, there’s a lot to get used to between the two worlds. Gymnasts move from an individualistic competitive atmosphere requiring super difficult routines and tons of sacrifices into a team environment that puts a focus on perfecting execution and having fun.
In 2016, there are a few dozen former elites joining the freshman class. Representing eight countries, some competed at the Olympics this summer while others never made their national teams, but all will bring the elite experience into their collegiate performances, and we’re excited to introduce them to you in what will be a three-part series showcasing each athlete’s strengths as they hope to become major contributors on their new teams.
Kaylee Cole, Stanford
Though she lived and trained in Texas before coming to Stanford, Kaylee represented Bolivia (where she has citizenship through her mom) internationally at the 2015 Pan Am Games, though injury kept her from competing at worlds later that year. Kaylee trained at both WOGA and Texas Dreams, and as a level 10, made it to three J.O. national championships. With several all-around titles to her name, including at the state and regional levels, Kaylee is excellent on vault and floor, areas where Stanford has struggled in the past. However, she has strong enough work on all four events and could bring big scores wherever she’s needed to help her team.
Giulianna Pino, UCLA
Born in Ecuador, Giulianna grew up in Miami and trained at Universal Gymnastics alongside boyfriend Danell Leyva, a three-time Olympic medalist for the U.S. men’s team. In 2014, Giulianna reached both level 10 and began competing as an elite for Ecuador, making her elite debut at the Pan Am Championships in Toronto. Last year, she competed in two world cups before heading to world championships, where she showcased an excellently-performed floor routine, which is where I think she’ll shine at the collegiate level. UCLA is stacked this year, so it’ll be tough for anyone to make the lineup, but I hope she gets some of the spotlight for this event.
Ruby Harrold, LSU
A member of Great Britain’s 2016 Olympic team and historic bronze medal worlds team in 2015, Ruby contributed a high score and a unique bars set, a routine that made her an international name thanks to difficult combinations and skills like her Bhardwaj and her awesome Zuchold transition, which she’ll continue to compete at the college level. She made world championships event finals three years in a row for her work on bars, and her team also relied on her strong DTYs. Look for her in the all-around, but my guess is that her bars will be the big fan favorite down in Baton Rouge.
Isis Lowery, Oregon State
A self-declared Beyoncé enthusiast, Isis is a power gymnast, which will be a big help to Oregon State’s lineup. Coming onto the elite scene as a junior in 2011, Isis competed at the WOGA Classic and the Nadia Comaneci Invitational in the U.S., and then spent the next few years building up her difficulty, with Peggy Liddick calling her one of the big up-and-comers back in 2014. That year, Isis won the vault title with a great Yurchenko 1½ and also went for a difficult punch double front off beam. We haven’t seen her since, so I can only assume injury, but once healthy, she’ll be a big help to the squad.
Courtney McGregor, Boise State
After competing at the 2012 Pac Rims as a junior, Courtney and her New Zealand teammates became international sensations, and when she returned to the Pac Rims stage as a senior two years later, Courtney made history for her country after earning the silver medal on vault. She competed at worlds in 2014 and 2015, and this year, she earned an individual spot at the Olympic Games, where she gave one of the best performances of her career. Boise State had a huge rise in its 2016 season, and Courtney has the potential to help them climb even higher — and become an all-around standout — with her contributions on all four events.
Clair Kaji, Iowa
A regular on Canada’s domestic elite scene for several years, one of Clair’s crowning achievements was helping the British Columbian team to a bronze-medal finish at the 2015 Canada Games, where she also finished sixth on floor and seventh all-around. This year, at her final elite nationals, Clair was 14th all-around with a couple of falls on bars, but earlier in the season she was ninth at Elite Canada with strong work on all four events. A good vaulter with big floor skills, these are the events she should contribute most on at Iowa, though watch out for her unique choreo on beam too.
Polina Poliakova, Rutgers
As a six-time member of the England National Squad, the Russian-born Polina, who trained with the Pipers Vale Gymnastics Club, got several international experiences throughout her career. She helped England to back-to-back team bronze medals in 2014 and 2015, and this year, placed ninth at English Championships, earning a trip to nationals where she placed 15th. Polina’s a fabulous floor worker with a great mix of power and beauty, so I expect her to be a fixture in that lineup soon.
Kirsten Peterman, Maryland
Since becoming a senior in 2014, what hasn’t Kirsten done? In her first year at the senior level, she won vault and beam medals at nationals and made Canada’s Pan Ams team while getting an alternate spot at worlds. When teammate Aleeza Yu was injured, she stepped in on all of Yu’s events, performing especially well on vault. Injuries kept her down in 2015, but she was back this year, making it through Canada’s Olympic Trials, where she placed fourth. Her Yurchenko 1½ is especially valuable as Maryland’s sole 10.0 start value, but I think with a little bit of clean-up from her elite days, she should easily make the lineups on all four events.
Rachel Gowey, Florida
The 2015 Pan Am Games bars gold medalist, Rachel was a huge recruit and will bring tremendous elegance to the Gators both there and on beam and floor. Though injuries slowed her down a bit in the middle of this quad, she returned with brilliant performances this summer, finishing up her elite career with the silver all-around medal at the U.S. Classic and an 11th place finish at the U.S. Olympic Trials, where bars and beam were as always a standout. The downgrades that come with NCAA will help Rachel focus even more on what she excels at, which is an exceptional performance value.
Sam Ogden, Denver
Though her time as a U.S. elite was short-lived, with appearances at classics and nationals as a junior in 2013 and again at classics as a senior a year later, Sam wasn’t a traditional WOGA gymnast and often struggled given the same skills as the rest of her teammates. Once back at level 10, Sam came into her own, showing a good balance between all four events, so consider her another former elite who should bring true all-around prowess to her NCAA days. She’s looked good in the few bars training videos Denver has posted, but that’s about all we’ve seen, so expect her to start out there and work her way up as she grows with the team.
Article by Lauren Hopkins