College Gymnastics Championships Get Lee Gold

The NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championship is traditionally a gathering of exceptional gymnasts who compete at a little below world-class ...

The NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championship is traditionally a gathering of exceptional gymnasts who compete at a little below world-class international events.

But swinging on the bars and balancing on the balance beam this week in Fort Worth, Olympic all-around gold medalist Sunisa Lee competes for Auburn. And although she won one event, the competition is so strong this year that she only finished second in the all-around.

College gymnastics was generally not an option in the past for elite gymnasts with Olympic gold medals. Opportunities to be on Wheaties boxes and television commercials meant that teenage gold medalists like Mary Lou Retton, Nastia Liukin and Gabby Douglas lost their eligibility for varsity competition.

But because of new rules allowing college athletes to benefit financially based on their names, pictures and likenesses, Lee and others can compete in NCAA events while continuing to earn income following their Olympic triumphs.

While a few Olympians like Jamie Dantzscher and Bridget Sloan competed in NCAA championships after their international careers, Lee is the first women’s all-around Olympic gold medalist to compete collegially.

The gymnast who beat Lee in the NCAA all-around on Thursday was Trinity Thomas of Florida. Thomas was an Olympic candidate herself, but dropped out of the race last spring with an ankle injury.

His NCAA triumph was capped off with a perfect 10 by winning the floor exercise.

Thomas also won the uneven bars, while Lee won the beam and Utah’s Jaedyn Rucker won the vault.

Three other members of Team USA 2021 are competing in Fort Worth: Grace McCallum for Utah, Jordan Chiles for UCLA and Jade Carey, who finished fourth overall for Oregon State.

Lee credited a pep talk from Chiles for calming her down and helping her finish second.

Lee had planned to go to Auburn before the Games, and his unexpected gold medal after Simone Biles dropped out of the all-around with a mental health problem did not change his plans. “No one wanted me to win the all-around gold medal; I didn’t intend for that to happen,” Lee told the Montgomery announcer. “So it kind of felt like I had already decided to go to Auburn.”

Lee is coached at Auburn by Jeff Graba, the twin brother of her personal trainer, Jess Graba.

“If she had this year in 2020 when she was 17 and there was no NIL and that kind of stuff, I think it’s a whole different ball game,” Jeff Graba told The Advertiser, referring to the new name, image and likeness rules. “I don’t know if she can actually go to college with all the endorsement offers she would have had at her feet.”

Competition continues Saturday with the team final, which will feature Florida with Thomas, Auburn with Lee, Utah and Oklahoma. For Auburn, that ensures a better result in the competition, thanks in large part to the Olympic gold medalist on its roster.

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Newsrust - US Top News: College Gymnastics Championships Get Lee Gold
College Gymnastics Championships Get Lee Gold
Newsrust - US Top News
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