Drop down into a deep squat, now stick one leg out straight to the side. Now turn — actually, turn a couple of times — on a balance beam, and do it perfectly.
The move, called a “wolf turn,” in the gymnastics world, is an eye-catching feat of physics and strength that happens in seconds.
Its popularity has been on the rise in the elite and college world ever since Simone Biles used it in the 2016 Olympics. Among those performing the trick are Utah’s Grace McCallum on the balance beam and Maile O’Keefe on the floor.
The turn makes the move challenging since the gymnast at once has to remain balanced and make any adjustments needed to keep the axis of rotation vertical.
To start the turn, the gymnast brings the straight leg inward toward the bent leg and pivots on the leg that is on the beam or floor, completing a full circle.
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O’Keefe, who has been performing it since 2017-18, said the hard part it is getting into the squat position.
“Once you get there it’s surprisingly simple,” she said. “You wouldn’t expect it to be because it looks so hard, but personally I am good at turns too.”
Utah assistant coach Carly Dockendorf jokes that she doesn’t really coach the move, she just turns them loose, particularly McCallum who performs a double turn but can do more in practice.
“I say it looks like she is turning a pizza at Costco,” Dockendorf said. “I just let her do her thing.”
McCallum started working the wolf turn when she first became an elite gymnast in 2018 and was soon doing a triple turn. She performs a double turn for the Utes.
“I can do it in my sleep now,” she said. “When I was learning it, it came really easy for me. You need good quad strength and core, but once you are in the position you just have to maintain your balance there. A lot of people mess it up by leaning to one side and lose it, but I figured out what works for me.”
It’s always interesting to hear from a gymnast’s standpoint what is considered “easy,” since many of their easy moves look near impossible to most fans. This move certainly goes in that category, as most observers probably feel their kneecaps bursting at the thought of getting into the deep squat.
The move though is captivating because it isn’t only about the strength and mobility, but the grace to compete the turn. McCallum does wear a special toe shoe that makes turning easier.
The move is rated an “E,” the most difficult category in college gymnastics, giving McCallum a lot of difficulty credit in a relatively safe fashion for her.
“I’ve seen her do five in a row in practice, it’s crazy,” Dockendorf said. “She just keeps going.”
McCallum’s move is anticipated by Utah’s crowd, evidenced by the reaction it brings.
“I hear the crowd and I’m like, ‘awww, I’m glad you like my turn,’ ” she said. “I feel like it’s my ‘wow’ skill a little bit.”
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