Ahead of Friday’s first round of the NCAA gymnastics national competition, Slate.com writer Rebecca Schuman published a titillating exposé detailing the bad reputation that Utah’s MyKayla Skinner has carried with her throughout her athletic career. Schuman’s article is a must read for fans of Utah gymnastics, as someone finally says what so many Utah fans have known for three years. A bastion for consistency, Skinner is considered one of, if not the best gymnast at the collegiate level, however a quick look at her stat sheet, especially when compared to her peers might suggest otherwise. Is it possible that Skinner’s perceived “bad attitude” is the reason behind her obviously low scores?
Anyone who has ever seen Skinner perform knows she’s far from a typical gymnast. While competing, MyKayla is usually stone-faced and emotionless, devoid of the bubbly personality and perpetual smile that is synonymous with competition gymnastics. Her post-routine celebrations on the other hand are high-energy and dramatic, a stark contrast to the usually prim and proper salutations given by decades of gymnasts before her. In any other sport, this approach would be revered as someone who is focused and competitive, but in gymnastics, icy veins only rub the old guard the wrong way, however labeling her aggressive style as a “bad attitude” seems antiquated and misogynistic; after all, a deeper look at Skinner’s past maybe justifies her edge.
Before joining the Red Rocks, Skinner was competing for international glory. As one of the five top-scoring gymnasts at the 2016 United States Olympic trials, she appeared to be a lock to make the coveted five-woman first team roster and would be headed to Brazil to represent her country. Shockingly, Skinner was moved to the second team as an alternate, only competing if one of her teammates was injured or otherwise incapacitated (which didn’t happen) in favor of two-time gold medalist, and the then face of USA gymnastics, Gabby Douglas, who had finished two spots below Skinner at the trials. At 19 years old, it would likely be Skinner’s last chance to compete with the national team, and undoubtedly left a sour taste in her mouth.
Now at the college level, where scoring is just as subjective and seemingly unbalanced, Skinner continues to be scorned by judges who take heed of her abrasive nature. Showcasing the most difficult vault and floor routines in the nation with nearperfect execution week in and week out and failing to earn top scores while her counterparts on rival teams consistently rack up 10.000’s with a lesser degree of difficulty and the same minute mistakes that dock Skinner must be maddening. One mustwonder if her supposed “bad attitude” is simply a product of repeatedly being held down by a broken system that buoys less talented athletes.
Harkening back to 2006’s gymnastics comedy, “Stick It”,protagonist Haley Graham’s abrasive approach to the sport outwardly led to mindless deductions from the judges, further fueling her vitriol towards the sport itself. The main characters sentiment of “It doesn’t matter how well you do. It’s how well you follow their rules” seems to ring eerily true for Skinner. Her dedicated fan base can only hope the judging panel at this weekend’s national championship can look past her perceived indiscretions and do right by one of the best the sport currently has to offer.