Athletes are scrutinised not just on their performance but how pleasing their bodies look during competitions, and that can weigh anyone down.

NCAA and former team USA gymnast, Katelyn Ohashi recently revealed how she fell out of love with gymnastics because being an international gymnast physically broke her body.


In 2013, which was very early on in her elite career, she won the American Cup, toppling the now record-breaking Simone Biles. Amidst the celebrations, privately, Ohashi was struggling with a fractured back and two torn shoulders. Many years later, she found her place among the UCLA Bruins female gymnastics team which previously featured the likes of Olympians Samantha Pszesk of the USA, Christine Peng-Peng Lee of Canada and Stella Savvidou of Cyprus.

Did the pressure of training and competing come flooding back, or did she enjoy her time being a part of the famous UCLA Bruins gymnastics team?

The legendary UCLA female gymnastics head coach, Valorie Kondos Field, who retired in 2019, accepted Ohashi into the team in 2015. Ohashi and the other coaching staff and team have never looked back since. Ohashi stands at around 5ft 1in and weighs a trim 40kg — which seems to be the average height and weight for current female gymnasts. However, there is one other notable UCLA member, who is currently a senior and is much taller than Ohashi. This is Kyla Ross, who competed in the 2012 summer Olympics in London as part of the fierce five. She stands at an impressive 5ft 7in and weighs a mere 45kg, but this doesn’t impact her doing the all-round competition and winning her perfect 10s in NCAA and PAC-12. Ohashi didn’t record any perfect 10s in her first season with the Bruins, however she has since recorded 2 perfect 10s on the beam and a whopping 9 perfect 10s on the floor, including her viral routine from the 2019 collegiate challenge vs California, Michigan state and UC Davis. The most recent perfect 10 came in the 2019 PAC-12 championships.

Does the height of gymnasts impact their ability in competitions?

Gymnasts, especially Americans, Chinese and Russians, have a tough training schedule that pushes their bodies to the absolute limits, but this is the norm for any athlete at any height. Americans, before the Larry Nassar case which sent ripples through the entire competing community, would go to what was known as ‘The Ranch’ which was run by famous trainers Bella and Marta Karoyli. They are credited for the success of gymnasts such as Nadia Comenci and Mary Lou Retton. Comenci was 4ft 10in, and Retton was 4ft 9in, making this the ideal height for female gymnasts from around the world. Globally there are much smaller gymnasts who currently compete with no issues. This includes Claudia Fragapane of Great Britain, who stands at a mere 4ft 7in and is 43kg — a whole foot smaller than Ross — and Larisa Iordache of Romania who is 4ft 11in and weighs 37kg. The average height seems to be between 4ft 7 and 5ft and the average weight seems to be around 40kg, but being over or under this doesn’t necessarily impact the gymnasts’ performance. Other factors count too, such as training, a good coach and the ability to work with your particular body type.

It is not always the case that the smaller and lighter do better and win more medals in competitions. As already stated, Kyla Ross was over an inch taller than Ohashi and some of the previous UCLA alumni, but she was still just as, if not more successful than some of them. In Ross’ first ever collegiate meet for UCLA in 2016, she scored a 9.875 on bars, placing her first in the event. Ross and fellow Olympian, Madison Kocian, who stands at 5ft 3in and weigs 46kg, were the first ever Olympic gold medallists to compete for UCLA, and to also become NCAA champions.

Ohashi, UCLA and her success

Whilst competing at UCLA, especially during the collegiate challenges at the beginning of the 2019 season, Ohashi went viral worldwide for her Michael Jackson-inspired routine that included some unique split leg flips, and she scored a perfect 10.0 for that routine. To date, the routine has over 77 million views on YouTube, and now Ohashi, along with her former coach are using this platform to raise awareness of issues close to their hearts.

Ohashi has now graduated UCLA with a Gender Studies degree, and when the news of the institutional abuse at USA Gymnastics came to light, she changed her routine music to include Tina Turner, a well-known victim of abuse.

 

Ohashi gave the following, but important statement after her routine went viral:

I know it is important to stay humble. I don’t want to lose myself in this. I know that it all can be gone tomorrow.

So the success of the gymnasts at UCLA prove that you don’t need to be a set height and weight to be successful. There is still the expectation that you will be healthy and keep fit — a must for any athlete. But the students can also have well-deserved junk food every so often, a treat after all that demanding training.