When she completed the final, bouncy moves in another gymnastics floor routine that helped bring joy and exuberance back to a sport rocked by scandal, UCLA’s Katelyn Ohashi jauntily dropped the mic.
It was a gesture that capped the final performance of a college career marked by viral videos of performances she designed to empower women and fight body shaming, powerful athletic displays that helped land repeated national TV appearances. The gymnast nicknamed ‘‘the Perfect 10’’ was in a tie for seventh at the NCAA Championships on Friday in Fort Worth and UCLA, the defending champion, finished third behind Oklahoma and LSU on Saturday. The Sooners scored 198.3375 points, to LSU’s 197.8250 and the Bruins’ 197.5375.
Ohashi blew a kiss to the crowd after her floor routine and watched her teammates compete. ‘‘We remember why we do it,’’ Ohashi said (via the Los Angeles Times). ‘‘It’s not about the winning, it’s not about the first place, it’s about going out with no regrets, and that’s exactly what we did.’’
Despite the disappointment of the finish for UCLA, Ohashi leaves secure in the knowledge that she helped restore a sport left reeling by a sexual assault scandal that resulted in the conviction of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State physician who molested more than 300 women. Ohashi ranked first nationally and scored six perfect 10s in floor exercise this season, with video of her routine drawing more than 117 million views.
Ohashi did it with delight, writing in a poem called ‘‘Fame’’ that ‘‘Not everyone’s destiny is going to be the same. Set your own goals and make your own fame.’’
‘‘I think I finally have really taken ownership of myself and me as a gymnast,’’ Ohashi said (via the Associated Press). ‘‘It just reminds you that timing is everything. I wouldn’t have been ready for all of this last year. I think this being my last year has set me up for a lot of the things I want to do in my future. I’ve always wanted to have a platform like this. So I think it’s really amazing.’’
She sends her message with music from artists including Tina Turner, Janet Jackson, and Beyoncé, as well as Earth Wind & Fire, the Jackson Five, and Michael Jackson, but she is well aware that this is the end of the road for her. Like many gymnasts, she has had to overcome physical injuries and issues with food and body image.
‘‘I’ve said before, ‘gymnastics is abusive,’ but now I know it’s not the sport that’s abusive — it’s the culture that was created and accepted and normalized,’’ she told Marie Claire, describing the difference she found in college gymnastics. ‘‘It’s not about the gold medal — we’re not trying to go to the Olympics — we know this is it for us. After these four years, gymnastics is over.’’
She noted that ‘‘you can clearly see a difference between us and other teams,’’ she said of UCLA. ‘‘You can still get results without abuse.’’
Ohashi, a gender studies major who also blogs and write poetry, is ready for the next phase of her life.
‘‘People are just starting to realize who I am, and they’re like, ‘Oh no, it can’t be over yet - you’re kidding me!’ ‘‘ she told Marie Claire. ‘‘But I never would have wished for this to happen any earlier because I wouldn’t have been ready for it. I have grown so, so much and stepped into who I want to be in the future.’’
That future holds plans for activism around issues such as body, image, mental health and domestic violence. ‘‘I’ve been waiting for my platform to get to this point,’’ she told the magazine, noting that she shares a blog called Behind the Madness with a friend. ‘‘I’ve always been sharing this stuff - I just have a lot more ears now.’’