MyKayla Skinner of Utah is one of the best collegiate gymnasts in the nation, and the junior’s huge skill set and passion for the sport have helped elevate the level of collegiate gymnastics and set a new precedent for difficulty in the NCAA.

Skinner was a top elite gymnast, recruited by many of the top teams in the nation before she “fell in love” with the University of Utah. Having lived in Utah at a young age for a few years and attended many gymnastics meets there growing up, MyKayla knew the school was “where [she] was meant to be.”

Utah is certainly glad to have her, as Skinner has led the team from the moment she stepped on campus, competing in the all-around every single week and never missing a routine her freshman and sophomore season. It is extremely rare for a freshman to be able to step up and adapt to college gymnastics so well their first year- let alone coming off a run to being selected as an alternate for the US Rio 2016 Olympic Games gymnastics team- but although Skinner admits it was “not always easy,” Skinner showed no sign of the typical freshman struggles.

A Pac-12 all-around title, an individual NCAA championship title on the floor exercise, and eight all-american accolades just the start of the list of accomplishments for Skinner in her first year, making it no surprise she was crowned Utah gymnastics’ MVP.

MyKayla Skinner performs on the floor exercise for the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City, Utah/Utah Athletics

Even more impressive than her many titles, MyKayla brings a level of difficulty to the NCAA scene that had never been seen before, with a floor routine opened by a double-double and closed with a full-twisting double back, the latter of which is seen as a difficult opening pass for even the best collegiate gymnasts. The decision to keep such difficult skills also stemmed from a rather unconventional reason, as the harder, more difficult skills actually are easier in some cases for Skinner to perform. On floor in particular, MyKayla mentioned she “can’t do a double back,” and warms up by “doing a full in and then just chucking a double double.”

Knowing “college gymnastics is about being super clean,” Skinner worked on her form to still be able to compete her big skills, recognizing that they have “been [her] thing and make [her] stand out.” Those big skills may still be needed, as there has been much speculation to whether or not the talented student-athlete will make a run for the US Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games team. Skinner says she has “made her decision,” but is planning to “focus on the team and finish out nationals” before announcing her plans.

Even though MyKayla is competing difficulty unmatched by her collegiate opponents, she knows her skills still need to be perfect in order to receive that elusive Perfect 10.0 that every gymnast craves. Although it may seem to some unfair that a routine that difficulty does not equate to higher scores, Skinner understands the scoring system, saying “I shouldn’t deserve a 10 just because I am doing hard difficulty.”

Even with the insanity of her floor routine, MyKayla has already attained perfection on the event three times in her career. After receiving two Perfect 10.0s her freshman season, Skinner kept just missing the mark and sought to make every aspect of her routine better and closer to perfection. After spending time working with her choreographer to “bring the judges in and make them enjoy the routine as much as [she] does,” the junior finally received the elusive score at the Maverick Center in West Valley City, Utah in front of legions of Red Rocks fans at the Pac-12 Gymnastics Championships, an experience that she called “unreal.”

Mentioning how amazing it is to “work so hard for something and finally get it,” Skinner emphasized how special the moment was to her, adding that she “feels like [she’ll] never have an experience like that again.”

MyKayla Skinner celebrates with teammate Makenna Merrell-Giles after competing for the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City, Utah/Utah Athletics

Being a public figure, Skinner has also had to deal with both the positive and negative aspects of having a large social media following. Her expressive and intense personality has created a large fanbase but also caused many fans of the typical “always smiling and positive” collegiate gymnast stereotype to formulate negative opinions on MyKayla’s personality.

Noting that social media is “just hard and you will have people who hate you even though they don’t know you,” Skinner deals with the negativity by remembering that “everyone has their own story and life isn’t easy,” and strives to “stay positive through it all.” The Utah star is unapologetically herself and fully embraces every opportunity she has to inspire and connect with fans, saying she is “so grateful for every opportunity she gets to ‘be an example to all the little girls out there who are trying to reach their dreams.'”

As a junior now and an upperclassmen, Skinner feels like she has “grown as a gymnast and a person” and “become a leader” for Utah, helping share her confidence with the team. Mentioning how “cool it has been to see [her]self grow,” MyKayla is now ready to help her team accomplish their goal for postseason, advancing to the first ever Four on the Floor Team Final competition at the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships in Fort Worth, Texas.

The new postseason format has made advancing to the national championship competition much more difficult as only eight teams qualified as opposed to the previous twelve, with Skinner mentioning the Utes had to “totally change their mindset” heading into the two-day regional competition, where Utah narrowly edged Minnesota at the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional to earn a berth to nationals, an accomplishment MyKayla called “beyond exciting.”

Heading into the two-day national championships competition, Utah will face off against defending champions UCLA, number three LSU, and Michigan and compete to finish in the top two to advance to the coveted Final Four Team Final on Saturday. The nine-time national champions Utah Utes are not seeded as a favorite to advance, and with Skinner acknowledging the “other teams want it just as badly as we do,” she believes the key to the Red Rock’s success will be “going in there and being a team.”

With the mantra “if you believe anything is possible” motivating the team, the junior is ready to “take any opportunity” and give everything she has to help her team advance.

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