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Utah gymnastics: MyKayla Skinner and Utes believe the wait will be worth it

Utah gymnastics • Freshman MyKayla Skinner ready for Ute debut after chasing Olympic dream.

MyKayla Skinner competes on the balance beam during the women's U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials in San Jose, Calif., Sunday, July 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

As the song goes, MyKayla Skinner could have taken the money and run. The 2016 Olympic alternate had a chance to go pro and accept a paid position with her Olympic teammates on a series of gymnastics exhibitions following their Olympic success.

But doing so would have meant Skinner would give up her collegiate eligibility. Ultimately she made the decision to join Utah's gymnastics program.

"I wouldn't have made that much money," she said. "It wouldn't have been enough to make up for the value of a degree, and I wanted to follow through and with my goal of coming to Utah."

No one was happier about Skinner's decision than Utah's coaches, who continued to keep recruiting the star as if she was an undecided candidate.

"We just kept promoting our program," Utah co-coach Megan Marsden said. "We wanted to make sure she knew we would take good care of her and that she would have a support system second to none here."

Why all the hard work and effort to land one recruit? Because Skinner is believed to be one of those rare gymnasts who even on an elite team would stand out as a superstar.

Utah fans will get their official introduction to Skinner when she competes in the all-around as the No. 6 Utes kick off the 2017 season Saturday against No. 7 Michigan at 5 p.m. at the Huntsman Center.

This introduction has been a long time coming, considering Skinner originally committed to the Utes in 2014, but deferred enrollment until 2016 so she pursue a spot on the Olympic team. She narrowly missed being selected, finishing fourth at the Olympic Trials. Skinner was not selected to the final 5-member team, bein passed over by USA coaches in favor of Gabby Douglas and Madison Kocian, who finished seventh and eighth, respectively, at the Trials.

Douglas was chosen for her previous Olympic experience while Kocian was valued for her uneven bars skills, which earned her an Olympic silver medal. Skinner still got a trip to the Rio Games out of the deal, but had to settle for the role of team alternate.

Skinner doesn't hide the fact traveling with the team and participating in everything but the competition was hard, but there was value in the experience too, she said.

"I am grateful for every opportunity and experience," she said. "But at the same time you are sitting there thinking, 'Man, I could be out there.'"

Skinner stayed with the team post-Olympics and participated in several of the victory tour events, but didn't take any money so she could keep her collegiate eligibility.

Now with the Utes, Skinner doesn't have any regrets about her decision, particularly after she got a taste of what gymnastics is like at Utah during the Red Rocks preview in front of 6,115 fans.

"I've never been in competition before in crowded gyms like this," she said. "It is definitely different but a lot of fun."

Skinner acknowledges she is feeling some pressure to meet expectations, but so far there has been no indication she can't live up to the preseason hype, according to her coach.

"There isn't much that rattles her," Marsden said. "Her training in pressure sets and situations, she is comfortable and confident. You can see her experience as an elite gymnast."

That is experience the Utes believe can lead to a very special career.

U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team members Ashton Locklear, from left, celebrates with Lauren Hernandez, Madison Kocian, Gabrielle Douglas, Ragan Smith and MyKayla Skinner after the women's U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials in San Jose, Calif., Sunday, July 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

MyKayla Skinner, Utah Gymnastic team October 22, 2016 in Salt Lake City, UT. (Photo / Steve C. Wilson / University of Utah)

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune MyKayla Skinner performing her floor routine. University of Utah gymnastics fans got their first glimpse of this yearÕs team at the Red Rocks Preview intrasquad meet at the Huntsman Center, Friday, December 9, 2016.

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune MyKayla Skinner performing her bars routine. University of Utah gymnastics fans got their first glimpse of this yearÕs team at the Red Rocks Preview intrasquad meet at the Huntsman Center, Friday, December 9, 2016.

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune University of Utah gymnast MyKayla Skinner during practice at Dumke gymnastics practice facility on the campus of the University of Utah Salt Lake City Thursday January 5, 2017.

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune University of Utah gymnast MyKayla Skinner during practice at Dumke gymnastics practice facility on the campus of the University of Utah Salt Lake City Thursday January 5, 2017.

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune University of Utah gymnast MyKayla Skinner during practice at Dumke gymnastics practice facility on the campus of the University of Utah Salt Lake City Thursday January 5, 2017.

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune University of Utah gymnast MyKayla Skinner, right, laughs with teammate Kari Lee during practice at Dumke gymnastics practice facility on the campus of the University of Utah Salt Lake City Thursday January 5, 2017.

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune University of Utah gymnast MyKayla Skinner during practice at Dumke gymnastics practice facility on the campus of the University of Utah Salt Lake City Thursday January 5, 2017.

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune University of Utah gymnast MyKayla Skinner during practice at Dumke gymnastics practice facility on the campus of the University of Utah Salt Lake City Thursday January 5, 2017.

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune University of Utah gymnast MyKayla Skinner during practice at Dumke gymnastics practice facility on the campus of the University of Utah Salt Lake City Thursday January 5, 2017.

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune University of Utah gymnast MyKayla Skinner tries on the teams new stocking caps during practice at Dumke gymnastics practice facility on the campus of the University of Utah Salt Lake City Thursday January 5, 2017.

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune University of Utah gymnast MyKayla Skinner, right, during practice at Dumke gymnastics practice facility on the campus of the University of Utah Salt Lake City Thursday January 5, 2017.

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune University of Utah gymnast MyKayla Skinner during practice at Dumke gymnastics practice facility on the campus of the University of Utah Salt Lake City Thursday January 5, 2017.

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune University of Utah gymnast MyKayla Skinner during practice at Dumke gymnastics practice facility on the campus of the University of Utah Salt Lake City Thursday January 5, 2017.

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