MaKenna Merrell-Giles has been chasing perfection her entire gymnastics career. So when she finally achieved the elusive standard with a vault against Washington last week, she didn’t quite know how to process what she had done.
“It was surreal,” she said. “I didn’t have time to soak it all in because it happened on the first event of the meet, and I had to get ready for my next event. But after the meet, I got to think about it all and enjoy it. It was fun.”
Merrell-Giles and her teammates will be back on the floor Friday, once again chasing the elusive perfection when the Utes host Arizona State at 7 p.m.
A perfect 10 is the most iconic achievement in gymnastics. Nadia Comaneci achieved the first perfect 10 in the 1976 Olympics, a feat that was matched in fame when Mary Lou Retton earned one in 1984.
The International Gymnastics Federation moved to a new scoring code in 2006 that eliminated the 10.0 start value, but collegiate gymnastics, very aware of the fans’ familiarity with the 10.0 scoring system, wisely has continued to use a 10.0 as the highest standard.
Doing so might have created a difficult job for judges to separate the top talent, but no one can argue with the excitement that seeing a 10.0 brings.
Utah’s 15,558 fans gave Merrell-Giles a standing ovation when she earned her mark on vault. The anticipation of possibly seeing another is part of the draw of collegiate gymnastics, Utes coach Megan Marsden said.
“I like that the judges are willing to go there and give a 10.0 when they see what looks like a perfect routine,” Marsden said. “I think it is important for fans to know there is a chance to witness that perfection.”
Merrell-Giles’ 10.0 was the 16th in Utah history on the vault and the first since Tory Wilson earned one at the 2015 Pac-12 Championships. There have been 22 on the uneven bars and the balance beam and 21 on the floor exercise.
“There are more and more 10s out there as top elite-level athletes move into the sport, but at the same time, I hope the judges don’t go crazy and give out a bunch,” Marsden said. “That would ruin it. Getting a 10.0 is a special moment. I like in our last meet there were some 9.95s and 9.975s, but getting a 10.0 is special.”
MyKayla Skinner, who earned two 10.0s on the floor last season, said it was a weird sensation to finally earn the perfect mark after years of trying. That she earned her second two weeks after her first didn’t diminish the achievement of the first, she said.
“When I got it at Pac-12s, it was like, ‘This is awesome,’” she said. “To get them especially on the floor, sometimes I feel like I get docked harder even though I have so much difficulty, so to get them was especially cool.”
Now that she has one, Merrell-Giles said the achievement is motivating her to go after more. There is no thought to scratching the achievement off any to do list and moving onto some other goal because there really aren’t any other goals for gymnasts.
“You are always striving to minimize the amount of errors you have every day in practice,” Merrell-Giles said. “To stick it and get a 10.0 in a meet, now I just want to see if I can get another one.”
NO. 17 ARIZONA STATE AT NO. 2 UTAH
When • 7 p.m. Friday
Where • Huntsman Center
TV • Pac-12 Networks
Radio • ESPN 700 AM
Of note • Utah has won its last 22 meetings with ASU. … ASU’s season high is a 196.8. … Jay Santos is in his second year coaching ASU. … Cairo Leonard-Baker is ASU’s top all-around (39.37 average) gymnast. … Utah is the only school in the country with two gymnasts ranked in the top five of the all-around with MyKayla Skinner ranked third (39.58) and MaKenna Merrell-Giles fifth (39.565). … The Utes will wear a throwback leotard for the meet.