As UCLA freshman Pauline Tratz landed her stuck double-tuck on Sunday, Feb. 4, Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, CA exploded into cheers. Tratz’s floor exercise scored a career-high 9.925 and was the closing routine of a historic NCAA gymnastics meet. #1 Oklahoma edged out #4 UCLA by a tenth of a point, but the results of the meet were not what anyone was focusing on.
Since over 250 gymnasts have come forward to accuse USA Gymnastics National Team Doctor Larry Nassar of sexual assault, every member of the United States of America Gymnastics Board of Directors, as well as recently-appointed National Team Coordinator Valeri Liukin, has resigned. Liukin is the father of Olympic champion Nastia Liukin and was sued over additional sexual assault allegations regarding his gymnastics academy in 2006. The Oklahoma Sooner and UCLA Bruin teams have five of Nassar’s accusers among them and their alumnae.
“We are here to rise together as one,” UCLA Head Coach Valerie Kondos-Field told the crowd who were all waving teal pom-poms. Teal is the official color of sexual assault awareness, and both teams wore teal ribbons in their hair and gave out wristbands with the words ‘Together We Rise’ printed on them. Oklahoma Head Coach K.J. Kindler continued, “The power and strength of women has been more evident in the past few weeks than ever before.”
During Kondos-Field’s comments, both teams donned ‘Together We Rise’ T-shirts and joined hands to watch footage of the accusers speaking out against Nassar, followed by team members expressing messages of support. Gymnasts, coaches and spectators alike were in tears as the five accusers stepped forward: UCLA alumnae Jamie Dantzscher, Jeanette Antolin and Mattie Larson; UCLA Assistant Volunteer Coach Jordyn Wieber and Oklahoma sophomore Maggie Nichols.
The gymnasts showed their support not only with speeches and apparel, but also with their efforts during the meet. Collegiate gymnastic events have a maximum score of 10.0, with deductions for errors in skill connection, completion and form. Gymnasts work toward achieving a perfect 10, but most are lucky to get it even once.
On Sunday, six gymnasts were awarded perfect tens.
Early in the competition, Oklahoma junior Brenna Dowell got her 10 on the vault with a stuck Yurchenko one-and-a-half, sending the energy in Pauley skyrocketing. In the third rotation, UCLA redshirt senior Christine Peng-Peng Lee evened things out with a 10 on the balance beam. Lee is especially known for adding extra difficulty to her routines, including a double turn and the Homa Flares, originally performed by UCLA alum Leah Homa.
The teams were tied going into the fourth and final rotation, with UCLA heading to the floor exercise and Oklahoma to the balance beam. Beginning with UCLA’s fourth routine, gymnasts scored four perfect tens in a row. Felicia Hano, Anastasia Webb, Katelyn Ohashi and Maggie Nichols achieved perfection, not only for their teams but also in support of Nassar’s accusers.
“Even though I’m a victim, I do not and will not live my life as one,” Wieber said in the footage projected to the crowd, a sentiment that was evident in both teams’ performances as well as in the ‘Together We Rise’ ceremony. As the teams converged into a group hug in the middle of the floor, their matching shirts and teal ribbons made it impossible to tell who was a Bruin and who was a Sooner, embodying the strength and support that has risen throughout the gymnastics community in the wake of this tragic abuse scandal.