SALT LAKE CITY — For most if not all of her life, MyKayla Skinner's dream was to make it to and compete in the Summer Olympics.
She got close in 2016, as close as you can get, really, as an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team.
It wasn’t close enough though, not for an athlete of her caliber, not for a gymnast with her dreams.
So, throughout her tenure at the University of Utah — three seasons that saw her secure a place as arguably the best gymnast in program history, not to mention one of the finest collegiate gymnasts in the country — Skinner had a nagging thought in the back of her mind.
She wanted to try again.
“You work for it your whole entire life and when you don’t accomplish that goal, which you really want, in the back of your head you want to go out there and try again,” she said. “And you want to make it this time.”
While there have been rumors throughout her time at the U., Skinner made it official Thursday morning: she will be leaving Utah to pursue her lifelong Olympic dream.
“I am really excited, I have the shakes,” she said. “I love competing for the University of Utah, but I have always thought about the Olympics. I’d like to try and compete for my country. I see the opportunity to pursue an Olympic berth as a chance of a lifetime.”
The decision was not an easy one.
Skinner’s time at Utah changed her in ways that she didn’t altogether expect when she first committed to attend, ways that made it difficult to leave.
“My time here has meant the world,” she said. “It has been incredible. I accomplished way more in the past three years than I ever thought I was going to do. Everything I got to be a part of, being a part of this Utah legacy has been incredible.
“It was a difficult decision. It is hard to leave the team. I don’t want to hurt the team or the coaches' feelings, anyone’s feelings, because I want to be there and support them as much as I can.”
It was in large part for her teammates, and a little bit for herself, why she didn’t announce her decision earlier, despite coming to know where her future lay well before the end of the season.
“I have known for a while, but I didn’t want to announce anything because I wanted to get through nationals and the season,” Skinner said. “Still, it came faster than I thought. I didn’t even know we’d release all of this today. It doesn’t really feel real yet.”
The process to make it onto the Olympic team will be an intensive one and Skinner will start training as soon as she returns home to Gilbert, Arizona, as early as next week.
“I have talked to Lisa (Spini)” — her coach at Desert Lights Gymnastics — “a bunch and Tom Forster, the new Olympic coach, and they have gotten my routines together and kind of focused on what I need to get back and what I need to change,” she said.
At 22, Skinner will be among the oldest gymnasts competing for a spot on the Olympic team, but she remains optimistic that she is up to the task.
“I just need to go in there and take a couple steps back, ease into things,” she said. “It kind of (worries me), but I watched some of the past Olympians come back and they really paced themselves, didn't overdo everything. I feel like it shouldn’t be too bad and my body still feels really good.”
Skinner will start training with the national team as early as June, mainly on floor and vault, while working to refine her balance beam and uneven bars routines.
From there comes the U.S Classic in July, then the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in August, followed by the 2019 World Championships in November.
By then Skinner hopes to be completely up to speed in the all-around, all in preparation for the U.S. Olympic Trials in June 2020.
“I know it is going to be a lot of hard work, especially since a bunch of things have changed, not to mention the skill level and execution that goes along with it, but I think I can do it,” said Skinner. “I have continued to do some of my big skills in college and I am so excited to go back and do the skills that I love to do.”
If at any point the dream doesn’t appear possible, Skinner is open to the possibility of returning to Utah for her senior season — she ultimately wants to complete her communications degree and enter the world of sports broadcasting — either this fall or the next.
“I have until the end of the summer to decide if I want to come back, if nothing is working out for me,” she said. “If not, I’ll train at home and come back the year after.
"I think everything will work out. I am going to go home and focus on the things I need to do, and if they don’t work out, they don’t work out.”