Despite setting new personal bests on floor routines three times during her first season on the UNC’s gymnastics team, junior Mikayla Robinson entered the 2018 meet against Temple in her second season wanting to do even better.
She had previously struggled with endurance during her third tumbling pass. But that day, she overcame her struggles, earning a personal best of 9.900 out of 10.
The art of floor routines has evolved since its inception and a sport-wide movement to more modern and expressive floor routines was recently displayed in a viral video featuring Katelyn Ohashi, a women's gymnast at the University of California at Los Angeles. UNC was ranked sixth in this event nationally during the 2018 season and currently has three of the top five floor gymnasts in its conference.
Ohashi’s routine featured songs by Tina Turner and Michael Jackson, a decision that would have been unusual in gymnastics during the 1960s and 1970s because floor routines were regularly accompanied by a different style of music.
“When I first began coaching even when I was a gymnast, the men's team and the women's team used to train in the same facility,” said Derek Galvin, head coach for women’s gymnastics. “Their floor routines were to piano music.”
The University's program has produced seven individual East Atlantic Gymnastics League champions in floor exercises since 2002. Galvin said the team’s success is due to a combination of heavy conditioning and gymnast expression.
“Whether it’s a double back or a twist, a flip, those are hard things to do,” Galvin said. "And when you combine that with the grace and beauty of dance, it provides a form of entertainment that you don't find in other sports."
Conditioning is key when a gymnast is preparing to compete in floor exercise on any level. UNC’s team often performs endurance routines that include performing passes of the routine multiple times — with bicycling or jumprope in between. Floor exercise is the longest event. Stamina remains a key element, alongside artistry.
“It’s similar to a sprinter — it takes the demand that a sprinter faces,” Galvin said. “The routine is a minute and 30 seconds, but in that minute and 30 seconds they’re doing dance elements, they're doing tumbling elements and they're expressing their artistic quality of their gymnastics.”
Physical athleticism and acrobatics are only one part of the demands of floor exercise. Gymnasts must also incorporate dance and personality into their routines. This combination, Galvin said, makes the event creative and leaves so much room for gymnast expression.
“One of the aspects of competitive women’s artistic gymnastics that is so entertaining is the blend of the artistic expression and the power of an incredibly exciting acrobatic element,” Galvin said.
But putting on a performance means having an audience. The Tar Heels’ most recent meet against North Carolina State University had 3,828 people in attendance. Connecting with the audience allows the gymnasts to share their expression, Galvin said.
Junior gymnast Jamie Antinori said competing in Carmichael Arena is one of her favorite parts of being on the team.
“I just love the feeling when you hit a floor routine in Carmichael,” Antinori said. "It's just the best feeling ever and then the tumbling, the flying through the air, that’s going to be something I’ll miss after I’m done with gymnastics."
Robinson said when she is performing a routine, it’s all about the adrenaline. Gymnasts learn their routines in the fall and change routines every year or two. By the time they perform in the spring season, the focus is on precision and execution.
“After the routine, it's a relief but still a lot of adrenaline," Robinson said. "Kind of like a runner’s high after.”
The artistry of the sport can come with negative side effects during judging, Robinson said. Deductions are based on landings, completion of splits in the air and the use of choreography to get from one place on the mat to the other. Robinson said that the subjectivity of the event is often the most challenging part.
“You could do the best routine of your life and then maybe not get the score you wanted just because the sport is so subjective, “ Robinson said.
The presence of an audience — on top of the choreography — makes floor exercise a unique experience. Valorie Kondos Field, head coach of gymnastics at UCLA and trainer for viral gymnast Katelyn Ohashi, was a professional ballerina before beginning her coaching career in 1983. Galvin said being a trained dancer contributes to UCLA being on the cutting edge of floor.
A signature of floor exercises is the team participation on the sidelines. Members of the team are often seen acting out the other gymnasts’ dance moves. Galvin said that this is the team’s way of celebrating the routine.
“Every gymnast, to some extent, is a performer. They want to perform. They want to draw the attention of the people watching,” Galvin said. “They don’t want to do what they’re doing in a vacuum. They want to share it.”
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