Next in our Mount Rushmore series is Gator Gymnastics. Three NCAA titles, ten conference titles, four Honda Award winners (including two two-time winners), nine individual national titles, and 460 total All-America honors are just the top highlights of the many accolades this team has achieved over the years. Part of the recipe for this incredible success has been the recruiting: Florida has had 23 international elites in its 37-year history in the NCAA. Because of the incredible caliber of gymnast that Florida attracts, it’s also very difficult to decide who should be honored among the greatest of the great. But when comparing the Gators to Mount Rushmore and the reason each figure is honored there, the picture becomes clearer as to the different kinds of gymnasts that would stand out enough to be chosen for such a monument.
Universally agreed upon by Gator fans and gymnastics die-hards alike, Bridget Sloan is like the George Washington of this monument. Sloan was the herald of the coming of Florida, signaling a new, prosperous era for the Gators ahead. Winning three national team titles, in addition to several individual medals, made a statement that Florida was a superpower here to stay, and completing the Gym Slam (earning a perfect 10.0 on every event) was no laughing matter either. Her two Honda Award wins bookended a storied career that would be difficult for any Gator, past or future, to rival. Here she is on floor in her freshman year, showing shades of intensity and attack that would serve her well throughout her career.
To fill the role of Thomas Jefferson, the Founding Father memorialized for the foundations he laid to point our nation in the right direction, there are a few Gator greats we considered. Maria Anz was our ultimate choice, seeing in her the precursor to the style and energy that has made Florida such a formidable force in the sport. Starting as a walk-on as a freshman, Anz won the NCAA floor exercise title as a sophomore year – Florida’s very first NCAA gymnastics champion in any category. Here’s the routine that won her the title, an honor that many future Gators would follow in her footsteps to win.
The Abraham Lincoln of Gator Gymnastics had to be a strong leader, someone charismatic and staunchly good that the team could rally behind, much the way the nation rallied behind Lincoln and his ideals during the Civil War. Marissa King fit this to a T, often looked to by her teammates for inspiration and affirmation to surge back and win important meets despite mistakes. Florida’s postseason depended on this leadership in 2013, as in both the SEC championship and the national championship meets, Florida had to rally from behind in order to win – and win they did, in both instances. After watching this incredible floor routine from her final night in the O-Dome, notice how emotional the whole team is as they come to congratulate her. She was clearly an inspiration to friends and teammates alike.
Last but certainly not least, the Gator Gym Mount Rushmore needs its Teddy Roosevelt. Looking back from today’s perspective, we may not consider him to be one of the all-time greats, but at the time that Mount Rushmore was built, he was a recent example of the country’s ideals. This role is best filled by Alex McMurtry, who recently completed her NCAA career with a Gym Slam, a national all-around title and a Honda Award to boot. She fought through a back injury and severe training restrictions to compete all-around in three of her four seasons and didn’t water down to do so. She performed some of the highest difficulty the Gators have ever seen – a double-twisting Yurchenko on vault and a gravity-defying triple twist on floor – and pushed her own boundaries, learning a new single-bar release for her bar routine while in Gainesville. Add this to all her accolades and we think we can confidently say McMurtry will be the Gator great of the current era that will stand the test of time. Check out her first-ever Florida floor routine, showcasing her gutsy performance and competitive spirit despite her challenges.
Of course, in any monument or Hall of Fame, there are those who come very close without making the cut. Gymnasts like Ann Woods, Kytra Hunter, Kennedy Baker, Elfi Schlegel and Trinity Thomas all have made their mark on Gator gymnastics (and some still are!) and deserve to be recognized as well. Who would you put on the Florida Gymnastics Mount Rushmore? Let us know in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter!
*Inspired by Steve Russell’s radio show, Sports Scene, we have opted to determine the Mount Rushmore of each UF program that we cover. Let us know if you agree or if there are any omissions.
Also, we chose to omit coaches intentionally and will do a totally separate post on the top coaches at UF.