Junior Trinity Thomas completed her jumps to perfection. She then fell diagonally to the ground but remained in control.
She then jumped into the air, blocked the landing, and smiled as the music softened.
Gators fans in the O’Dome stood up and erupted in joy and adoration as Thomas recorded his second 10 of the season on floor in the February 26 meeting against No.12 Auburn. He scored his third career perfect score on the year.
“This is one of the best routines I have ever done in competition,” she said. “Honestly, I didn’t really care about the score.”
Each gymnast in Florida sets a goal before walking on the center mats at the O’Connell Center. They want to leave everything on the floor, like actresses on the last night of a play.
The Gators rank first in each of the sport’s four events, according to Road to Nationals. But no event energizes a sold-out and socially distant audience like an electrifying routine on the ground.
Volunteer Assistant Coach Jeremy “J3” Miranda and several Gator gymnasts shared how they design breathtaking routines like Thomas’s.
Many gymnasts love the floor routine because it can show off their creativity and personality. The dynamic display of expression and athleticism draws the intrigue of fans into the event.
Florida allows its gymnasts to choose the track for their performance. Miranda listens to music all the time and even keeps a master worksheet on her computer to help the athlete find the perfect song. They can go further and choreograph their entire routine. This is exactly what junior Sydney Johnson-Scharpf is doing during the offseason.
Selecting songs takes the most time. Gymnasts begin to find the ideal melody after the end of a season. The anthem should motivate the gymnast to do her best.
Once they finalized their song choices, Miranda and Florida cut the music to blend in perfectly. Each gymnast has different preferences depending on when they want to knock out their passes and tumbling jumps.
The judges give each floor routine a base score of 9.4, Miranda said. The gymnast can generate 0.6 bonus points to potentially earn 10. One of these movements must include a combination of jumps awarded with a bonus tenth. The last five tenths come from each tumbling pass in the routine.
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At the end of summer, it’s time to choreograph. The process pushes athletes to their mental limits because they hate mistakes.
“They are all perfectionists,” he says. “They all want a 10.”
Choreography requires trial and error because gymnasts explore what works and what doesn’t.
Florida gymnasts always run to Miranda to add new moves to their exercise.
The coaching staff then focus on making their routine seem effortless, Johnson-Scharpf said. Coaches focus on building team endurance through training exercises. Landings are the icing on the cake of a routine.
The junior focuses on her facial expressions as she dances on the mat to mark her performance.
Each of Florida’s routines tells a different story, she said. She hasn’t set up the story she hopes to tell, but she wants to symbolize a puppet coming to life.
Many gymnasts in Florida have named junior Nya Reed as their favorite on floor.
She collaborated with Miranda to design a routine with as much nerve as possible.
The junior bounces, points her left index finger upwards and makes it rain Princess Nokia’s “Tomboy”, Megan Thee Stallion’s “Captain Hook” and Nicki Minaj’s “Chun-Li”. Reed specifically chose all female artists because it was important to her, she added.
The key to her performance, Reed said, is to compete the same way she trains. She stressed the need to focus on one skill at a time, like keeping her toes pointed and her legs straight.
Despite his natural appearance on the floor, Reed initially despised the event. She said nerves filled her thoughts before competing.
Coaches scolded her for the way she kept her gaze on the mat and failed to make eye contact, Reed said. To overcome these fears, coach Jenny Rowland asked the team to line the outside of the floor during practice. She then told Reed that she had to turn a blind eye to everyone on the team.
Reed truly emerged from his shell after his first meeting at the O’Dome on January 11, 2019.
The arena erupted in applause and Reed witnessed how fans love his routine and his sassitude. Her confidence skyrocketed, she put her fears behind her and developed a passion for competing on the floor.
“She’s just a ball of energy,” Johnson-Scharpf said. “She’s so sassy, and I love her personality and she really shines there.”
Johnson-Scharpf loves Reed’s routines because she falls powerfully and takes a huge height as she spins around the mat.
“She’s a great performer,” she said. “I love [her floor routines] more and more every year. She has grown so much.
When Johnson-Scharpf speaks up, she walks over to a corner of the mat and collapses. As the tango music picks up, it comes to life. The junior choreographed her routine with her mom’s help during her 40s. Johnson-Scharpf had no trouble calculating his movements and synchronizing them to the rhythm of his dance experience.
“I’m very in tune with my music,” Johnson-Scharpf said. “I kind of let myself imagine what’s going through my head.”
Reed bragged about how well she could watch Johnson-Scharpf’s ground performances on repeat for days on end.
“This girl is an artist,” Reed said. “I know every part of his routine. I love doing it with her.
She couldn’t believe Johnson-Scharpf had created her own routine. But Reed often struts with Johnson-Scharpf during training because she knows every second of his performance.
It’s also a performance every game for Florida to dance with their teammate from the sideline.
Another gymnast captivates the attention of Florida fans through her routines: sophomore Payton Richards. The Illinois native’s musical choice reminds fans of Fall Saturdays in The Swamp.
The audience sang the hits of the late Tom Petty as she bounced off the floor. She swings her arms on “I Won’t Back Down,” then dons an airy guitar on “Runnin ‘Down A Dream” before her final somersault pass. She also diversifies her music with AC / DC’s “Highway to Hell” and “Back in Black”.
Richards knew Petty’s songs because she grew up listening to them. Her parents played her music while she played in the lake next to their Lake Illinois home.
“I just wanted to do something like this and support my Gainesville community,” she says. “I grew up with four brothers, so we kind of listened to a lot of early music.”
But Thomas steals the show with his powerful tumbling and signing moves. She flexes like a butterfly, prowls the ground like a tiger in a jungle, and plays on the ground like a drum.
Miranda said they keep her signature moves, like flexing her right leg over her shoulder, as they have become synonymous with 10.
However, a patented movement makes its way into every routine despite the difference in every performance: the Gator chomp.
Contact Zachary Huber at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber
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