Utah gymnastics coach Tom Farden always knew there was a good chance MyKayla Skinner wouldn’t return to Utah to compete her senior year. Good thing he had some backup plans in place.
Skinner, who will compete in the Tokyo Olympics as an individual, announced on her Instagram she won’t compete again for the Utes, electing to go pro.
“There are things I want to do professionally and places my gymnastics can take that won’t work as a college athlete,” said Skinner, who uses her Instagram account to promote many products.
Skinner will return to school to complete her degree in broadcast journalism.
She ends her career as one of Utah’s most decorated gymnasts, winning NCAA titles in floor (2017) and vault (2018) and second in the all-around both years. She enjoyed a streak of 161 routines without a fall, an NCAA record and set a school record with 26 All-America selections.
She also won two Pac-12 all-around titles, two vault titles and three floor titles.
Farden wasn’t surprised by Skinner’s decision and said he has been planning for that scenario.
“You have to be prepared,” he said. “The one thing with MyKayla is you have to understand what it does to you physically and mentally when your Olympic run gets postponed by a whole year. Her path is so unique. Most gymnasts don’t go to college and compete then go back to the Olympics and then college again. The rigors of competing in college every weekend take a toll and it is just as hard as competing as an elite.”
Skinner was selected to represent the U.S. in gymnastics along with incoming Utes Grace McCallum, who was named to the four-woman team, and Kara Eaker, who will travel to Tokyo as an alternate.
Skinner’s experience as an alternate in 2016 was the driving force behind her decision to make another run at the Olympics. Having so many Utes on the seven-member team was a huge achievement for Farden and his recruiting.
“You can’t help your mind go ‘Wow, what could have been,’” Farden said of the possibility of having all three on the Utah team. “She was incredible for three years for us and had a career that most elites only dream of.”
Farden said the Utes will be more than OK without Skinner. He will keep recruiting Eaker and McCallum, even though they have signed, to hopefully keep them on track to compete in college rather than take the option of going pro after the Olympics.
“I always feel like our roster is a living document,” Farden said. “You are always thinking, ‘If this happens, what are we going to do?’ Roster management is an art.”
Sage Thompson, a junior Olympic uneven bars national champion, rounds out the recruiting class.
In addition, the Utes are getting a bonus with both Alexia Burch and Sydney Soloski exercising the option to return for a fifth year, a special provision the NCAA is offering due to the pandemic.
Perhaps most importantly for the future of the Utes is the performance of the underclassmen last year. Maile O’Keefe won two national titles, on the uneven bars and floor, to cap her outstanding sophomore year while Jaedyn Rucker blossomed into a powerful gymnast for the Utes following her knee injury. Freshmen Alani Sabado, Lucy Stanhope and Jaylene Gilstrap all proved they could compete at the highest NCAA level.
All in all, the Utes are stocked and their third-place finish in 2021 felt very much like a year to set up something big for the future.
“Since MyKayla has been gone, we finished fourth in 2020 in the abbreviated season and third last year,” Farden said. “I am not saying it wouldn’t have been wonderful to have her on the team, but everyone was worried in 2020 when we had to replace 14 routines and look what we did. We somehow finished on top of the Pac-12. We are still very optimistic about our future.”