Watching Pyeongchang Winter Games gives Utah gymnastics star MyKayla Skinner that Olympics itch

Ute sophomore says she’s tempted by new specialist slots on national team, but such a move could disrupt her college career.<br>

MyKayla Skinner performs on the beam during the American Cup gymnastics competition Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

MyKayla Skinner saw the ads for the 2018 Winter Olympics while she was watching the Super Bowl and thought, “Hmmm, maybe.”

“It made me think about my own chances,” she said this week. “Watching these Olympics is bringing back all the chills and good memories that I had.”

They’ve also, of course, brought back the heartache that Skinner experienced when she wasn’t selected for the 2016 Olympic team despite producing higher scores in key selection meets than some of those who were chosen to represent the country. She went as an alternate instead, an odd position in which she said she got to enjoy the fanfare as a team member without the chance of contributing.

She is over much of the bitterness she felt from the initial snub, but the pull of the Olympic Games remains strong.

“After having such a good successful freshman year, I know I am a good athlete and I deserve to feel good about my gymnastics,” she said. “Back then I let some of the hurtful or bad comments on social media get to me.”

These days Skinner is focusing on her gymnastics. She has found herself in an interesting dilemma this year, thanks to a phenomenal season driven by her Olympic omission.

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Determined to prove how good she was, Skinner had a freshman year that set a tremendous standard as she went 56-for-56 routines, won 43 individual victories and the NCAA floor title and was runner-up for the NCAA all-around championship.

This year she acknowledged feeling some pressure to match her own incredible debut, and while she still leads the team with 17 wins, her performances haven’t flowed the way she would like them to.

“I’m trying to relax now and just enjoy it,” she said.

Skinner seems to have found her groove again, posting 39.625 and 39.675 in the all-around the past two weeks. So, one wonders, why would she put all that Olympics stress back on herself in a few years?

Possibly just because she can.

A format change that will allow two event specialists per team makes the thought of an Olympic run more tantalizing, Skinner said.

“It would be really hard to do it in the all-around again, but I could train for floor and vault; it might be a fun way to finish my elite career,” she said.

If Skinner decides to make an Olympic run, she said she would have to skip her senior year so she could train and attend key qualifying meets.

The thoughts of her doing so make Utah coach Megan Marsden hesitate. She had her own Olympic effort experience when she was a Utah senior and tried to make the 1984 Olympic team. She had to miss two of Utah’s meets because of national team commitments and in the end failed to make the Olympic team.

“I always regretted missing those meets,” Marsden said. “If she does decide to do it, hopefully it won’t cost her college team anything. It’s two years away and she might be even more connected to being a Ute by then. All I can do is offer up some of the big-picture stuff.”

Skinner has some time to decide; the Olympics are two years away, and a decision likely could wait until after her junior year. For now, she is happy enough focusing on what the current Utes are doing.

This weekend she will face one of her Olympic teammates. Madison Kocian is a member of UCLA’s team. The Pac-12 rivals compete Sunday in Los Angeles.

“I love gymnastics and I just want to enjoy the moment,” she said. “I will have to see how my body feels. … It takes a lot of time and dedication.”