FORT WORTH — Heading into this weekend’s NCAA Gymnastics Championships, Utah junior MyKayla Skinner has been quite the topic of conversation.
There was this article by Slate Magazine, which argued that not only is she the best gymnast in the whole of college gymnastics, but also the most hated.
Then there was a story by Chalk Warrior, which detailed most if not all of her college career.
The East Valley Tribune, based in Skinner’s hometown of Gilbert, Arizona, even got involved, with a piece that examined Skinner’s decision to attend Utah, followed by a close look at this, her third year up on The Hill.
The attention didn’t stop there, however, as multiple national media entities interviewed Skinner for stories, videos and more.
All the attention paid to Skinner is hardly surprising.
She is a two-time national champion, after all, with a list of accolades that would put nearly any collegiate athlete, regardless of the sport, to shame.
She owns a school record 22 All-America awards, which includes both the regular and postseason, 19 of which are first-team honors (8 NCAA, 11 regular season).
She is an eight-time regional champion, and a seven-time Pac-12 champ.
Skinner is the Pac-12 record holder for career all-conference awards (14), career Gymnast of the Week awards (16), single season Gymnast of the Week awards (7, tied with UCLA’s Kyla Ross) and Freshman of the Week awards (6).
Her 107 career victories are third all-time in Utah history and currently, she is ranked in the top 10 in the nation on every event, including the all-around, save for balance beam.
In a word, she is superhuman.
That at least is how Utah senior MaKenna Merrell-Giles saw fit to describe her long-time teammate.
“Honestly," Merrell-Giles said, struggling for the right words, “she’s superhuman.”
Kari Lee preferred descriptors like amazing and insane, and noted that most of the time she doesn’t believe Skinner to be human at all.
“You knew she was going to bring great gymnastics, but this?” said Lee.
Macey Roberts, another Utah senior, was in lockstep with her classmates.
“She is really not human,” Roberts said. “She blows my mind every time I watch her.”
Utah co-head coach Tom Farden consistently calls Skinner a “world class athlete,” while fellow co-head coach Megan Marsden went with “freak of nature” herself.
Whatever the descriptor, none seem to accurately convey just how good of a gymnast Skinner actually is, and that is because she is better than expected.
Nowhere is that more clear than in her consistency.
Nothing has set Skinner apart from her fellow competitors like her consistency at Utah.
Through three seasons, until the NCAA regionals in Baton Rouge two weekends ago, Skinner did not miss on a routine in competition.
Her 161 consecutive routines without a fall was far and away the NCAA record, not to mention nearly twice as many as Becky Tutka (81), Utah’s previous record holder, hit in a row.
All the more impressive are the difficult skills Skinner performed throughout, elite-level skills that warranted a place among the hardest performed by any in NCAA gymnastics.
“She does some of the most difficult gymnastics in the country, in collegiate gymnastics, and she doesn’t miss,” said Marsden.
Her consistency goes even further than that, though.
You see, not only does Skinner hit seemingly every routine in competition, she doesn’t miss in practice.
“What she did in regionals, I don’t think she has ever done that in practice,” said Merrell-Giles. “I can count maybe two times where she messed up in the practice and it is because she tripped. Not even because of anything she did wrong, but because she tripped over something that was in the middle of the floor.”
It is for that reason that her teammates were completely shocked when she fell in Baton Rouge.
“(That fall) was even further beyond belief for all of us because she does that day in and day out,” said Marsden. “She just doesn’t miss. She does some of the most difficult gymnastics in the country and she doesn’t miss. She is a freak of nature, unbelievably consistent and consistently unbelievable.”
Skinner is also an excellent teammate, possibly her greatest achievement considering her background with USA gymnastics.
“She had to be very individual,” said Marsden. “They taught them to self-promote. It was in her DNA to be like that. I am really proud of how she has become more team-oriented. She saw how the team works here and she embraced that.”
Skinner also excels in the classroom, which was not an expectation held by the Utah coaching staff.
In fact, the thought was that Skinner would struggle to transition to college life.
Instead, she has thrived.
“She has proved us wrong every step of the way," said Marsden. "She has been unbelievable and I think she has even surprised herself with how well she has done.”
All the expectation-shattering done by Skinner has made her almost inarguably the best gymnast in Utah history, with apologies to former Ute greats like Missy Marlowe, Ashley Postell and Georgia Dabritz.
“I have never worked with an athlete as talented as MyKayla,” said Marsden. “She has exceeded all expectations.”
At this point, the only thing left for Skinner to accomplish at Utah is to bring home that elusive 11th national championship trophy.
While the Red Rocks are underdogs heading into the weekend’s competition, with Skinner on the roster, they have a chance.
Red Rocks on the air
NCAA National Semifinal (Session 1)
No. 5 Utah vs. No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 LSU and No. 6 Michigan
Friday, 11 a.m. MT
Fort Worth Convention Center, Fort Worth, TX
Radio: ESPN 700