Utah gymnasts hope small vault changes can help land more big scores vs. No. 1 Oklahoma

The Red Rocks travel to take on the country’s top-ranked team Sunday evening.

(Tony Gutierrez | AP) Utah's Maile O'Keefe celebrates after competing on the vault during the NCAA women's gymnastics championships, Thursday, April 14, 2022, in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Utah gymnasts are set for their biggest test of the season.

But if the Utes want to become national champions, they’ll have to beat the best to do it. That means vaulting over No. 1 Oklahoma.

Of course, judging the vault event is no easy task.

Utah coach Tom Farden has spent the past several years advocating for changes to help judges more accurately assess the intricacies of each vault. This year he got his wish — or close enough.

No. 5 Utah at No. 1 Oklahoma

Sunday, 6 p.m. MT


Hoping to help the judges in their tasks, collegiate gymnastics has tweaked the vault landing area this year, adding directional lines extending from the table to help judges determine how straight vaults are.

It’s a minor change, but in meets among elite teams, such as Utah’s competition at No. 1 Oklahoma on Sunday, even minor changes could make a big difference in the outcome of meets.

Farden has pushed for the change for several years, initially wanting mats with a line down the middle. The current tweak is a compromise so programs don’t have to get new mats.

“We wanted to help with the judging of the mechanics of the vault,” Farden said. “It’s just two strips of tape, so every program should be able to afford that.”

There are several ways for judges to differentiate between vaults. Amplitude, distance, form in the air and stuck landings are just some of the elements that can help judges discern one vault from another one.

However, when you get down to it, separating collegiate gymnasts in their vault is a hard task, especially since many gymnasts are performing the same vaults. In the end they are just talented blurs flinging themselves through the air.

While judges and fans might welcome the visual aids, the gymnasts say the modification changes little for them.

“We don’t think about the landing like that so it shouldn’t matter to us,” Utah senior Jaedyn Rucker said. “Amplitude and distance and cleanness in the air are the big separators and you just want a really big clean vault.”

Big vaults will definitely be on hand when Utah and Oklahoma tangle. Oklahoma’s average on the vault is 49.425 to rank the Sooners second behind Michigan (49.525) while Utah is ranked fourth with a 49.35.

The Utes have worked hard to upgrade their vaults and going against the Sooners will give them a good perspective of where they stand, with or without the lines.

“It’s a great team for us to go up against,” Farden said. “I feel like we were tested by LSU, then we had a great team effort on the podium last week so this is the next step, going to Oklahoma and seeing what we can do. I’d like for us to hit 24 routines and see what happens.”