Winning a national championship in college athletics is dizzyingly difficult — a lesson that the Florida Gators gymnastics program has learned in several painful ways in the last several years.
On Saturday, the Gators learned that lesson once again, by being fractionally less than their best on a day when Oklahoma was phenomenal, and falling to the Sooners at the 2022 NCAA Championships by just more than a tenth of a point.
A Florida program that has dealt with failures, near-misses, and a pandemic cancelling a season that would have seen it enter postseason competition as a favorite to bring the first national title back to Gainesville since 2015 did perform quite a few fantastic routines on this Saturday afternoon in Dallas.
Trinity Thomas led the way with four more scores of 9.9 or better and earned a 10 for a flawless floor exercise, giving her a full NCAA Championships of 9.9+ scores and a 39.8625 all-around mark that surpassed even her own national championship-winning all-around score of 39.8125 from Thursday’s semifinal session. And by scoring the best on vault on this Saturday and repeating her feats on bars and floor and in the all-around, Florida’s sensational senior produced the best scores in seven of a possible 10 individual competitions over the two days of the Championships.
Megan Skaggs and Leanne Wong, Florida’s two other all-arounders, had their own formidable days, with Skaggs posting a 39.525 for the day’s fifth-best all-around score and Wong a 39.575 that earned her third and came within a half of a tenth of a point of reigning Olympic all-around champion Sunisa Lee’s 39.625 for Auburn. But neither Skaggs nor Wong was able to score better than a 9.95 — and Wong’s floor score of 9.95 was one of just two (Alyssa Baumann posted the same score on floor) scores of at least 9.95 that Florida was able to earn without Thomas doing so, and minor mistakes that piled up on both vault and balance beam ultimately cost the Gators what proved to be crucial fractions of points.
That allowed Oklahoma to author its own story of great resilience. The Sooners began with an atypically poor floor rotation, salvaging a 49.1875 despite a couple of poor routines and no scores of better than 9.85, then put together three astounding rotations on vault (49.6625), bars (49.725), and beam (49.625) to ultimately outpace Florida by 0.1125.
For the Gators, who had not been beaten in a meet all season prior to Saturday, this is surely a heartbreaking loss to take — but it is one taken after a fantastic effort, with no shame to be derived from it.
For a Florida team that had arguably been the nation’s best, being bested on this day will sting — but it will not cheapen all the achievements to this point.
That there was slightly more to do to reach the summit does not diminish how far these Gators climbed.