Nearly 14,000 people sat with bated breath inside the Jon M. Huntsman Center on the campus of the University of Utah.
Utah gymnastics star Maile O’Keefe had just completed her routine on balance beam during the Red Rocks’ regular season meeting with the California Bears.
The crowd, O’Keefe’s teammates, coaches and well, lets face it, almost everyone in the arena, wanted the same thing... For the judges to award O’Keefe a perfect 10.
It didn’t take long for them to render judgement and once the scores came in it became a moment to remember as O’Keefe leapt past Utah legend Theresa Kulikowski in the program record books, becoming the most perfect gymnast on beam in Utah history with seven perfect 10s.
“Theresa has held that record since 2003, so I was one then,” O’Keefe said afterward. “It is amazing to be able to work hard and have my name in the record (books). She (Kulikowski) obviously was an amazing athlete and it is very cool to be there with her.”
O’Keefe actually now holds multiple beam related records for Utah.
In addition to her seven perfect routines in total, O’Keefe is also the only gymnast in Utah history to have three perfect beam routines in back-to-back seasons, in both 2022 and in 2023.
Additionally, O’Keefe holds the record for the most perfect beam routines in a single season at Utah with three, surpassing the mark of two, set by Missy Marlowe and later matched by Kulikowski, Kristen Kenoyer and Ashley Postell.
O’Keefe is also tied with Kulikowski as the only Red Rock ever to earn a perfect score on beam in three consecutive seasons — Kulikowski in 2001, 2002 and 2003, O’Keefe in 2021, 2022 and 2023.
A two-time individual NCAA champion as well — one of eight Red Rocks ever — O’Keefe’s place in Utah gymnastics history is assured.
“We always knew she was legendary,” fellow senior and NCAA champion Jaedyn Rucker said.
The things is, there is still room for more history to be made by current Utah gymnasts, O’Keefe included.
Records within reach for Maile O’Keefe
O’Keefe is the Red Rock with the best chance at making further history.
Now with eight perfect 10s in her career, O’Keefe is currently alone in program history with the fourth most ever, behind Kulikowski (14), Kristen Kenoyer (11) and Georgia Dabritz (9).
Dabritz, and possibly Kenoyer, remain in reach for O’Keefe this season (Utah has three meets remaining during the regular season, with the possibility for four additional meets if the Red Rocks can advance to the final day of nationals for the third straight year).
Thanks to the NCAA awarding a fifth year of eligibility due to of COVIDs impact on the 2019-20 season, O’Keefe could return next year as well.
She is at least considering it.
“I have thought about it a lot and I have kind of been working on things,” O’Keefe told the Deseret News last month. “It is definitely something I’ve been thinking about and would love to do. I’m just trying to figure things out with school and stuff like that. I’m still kind of undecided.”
O’Keefe is also one of only five Utah gymnasts with multiple 10s in the same meet in their career.
Kenoyer holds the program record with three 10s in a single meet, at the WAC championship in 1993, but O’Keefe earned two perfect 10s last season against Minnesota — one on bars, the other on beam.
A national champion on floor as well, O’Keefe is more than capable of elite scores on three events — bars, beam and floor — and she competed in the the all-around for the first time this season against Cal.
“You have to pace kids along,” Utah head coach Tom Farden said. “(Maile) is a senior now and we are at the point now where she is ready to go.
“She had a couple things that were lingering, like a lot of athletes, which is why she only competed every other weekend on some of the leg events. Now at the end of the season things have healed up.”
Records within reach for Kara Eaker
Like O’Keefe, Kara Eaker is an elite gymnast on beam, which she has already demonstrated early in her Utah career.
As a freshman last season, Eaker recorded her first perfect 10 at NCAA regionals and she added a second perfect 10 to her resume this season at the Best of Utah.
With multiple scores of 9.975 on beam in recent weeks, Eaker has been teasing another perfect 10 on beam. If she gets it, she will move into a tie with Kenoyer and Postell for the most in career by any Utah gymnast not named O’Keefe or Kulikowksi.
Another perfect 10 on beam this season will also move Eaker into a tie with Kenoyer, Marlowe, Kulikowski and Postell for the most in a season by a Utah gymnast not named O’Keefe.
“You have Kara Eaker who literally has been competing in finals at (the world championships) and winning national championships at the elite level,” Farden said. “To watch that transition into continued success at the college ranks, you just pinch yourself.”
Records within reach for Grace McCallum
After a standout freshman season, which included two perfect 10s on bars, Grace McCallum was on pace to make a run at some Utah history herself.
Now sidelined for an indefinite amount of time with a hyperextended right knee, the record books may proven harder for McCallum to crack, but she still has a shot.
Currently, McCallum is tied for the second most perfect 10s on bars in a season at Utah with two, alongside Kulikowski and Marlowe. Dabritz holds the record with five perfect 10s in 2015.
Dabritz and Kulikowski are tied for the record for the most perfect 10s on bars in a Utah career with seven, though McCallum would move into a tie with Marlowe for third-most with one more perfect bar routine.
Records within reach for Jaedyn Rucker
Vault has been the event Utah gymnasts have struggled the most at when it comes to perfection. Only 11 Red Rocks have ever recorded a perfect score on vault and only four gymnasts have ever had more than one.
The current program record holder for perfect 10s in both a career and season at Utah is Kenoyer, with three.
After recording the first perfect 10 of her career against Cal, though, Jaedyn Rucker is now a single perfect vault away from joining the likes of Postell and Tori Wilson — behind only Kenoyer and Annabeth Eberle — for the third most perfect vaults in a season.
The reigning NCAA champion on vault, Rucker also has the ability to come back for an additional season — she actually has two years of eligibility remaining after redshirting her freshman year due to injury — if she desires.
Three other current Red Rocks have also earned a perfect 10 in their careers — seniors Cristal Isa and Abby Paulson and sophomore Sage Thompson.
Paulson and Isa’s perfect routines came on beam, Thompson’s on bars.
Paulson has come close in recent weeks to breaking through and getting a second perfect score, with back-to-back 9.975s on beam. A senior, she can return for a fifth season next year, like O’Keefe and Rucker.
Isa is already a fifth year senior, meaning her Utah career will end after this season.
As for Thompson, she was briefly out of the bars lineup to start the year but has returned in recent weeks and done well.
To break into Utah’s record books, though, gymnasts have needed to earn multiple perfect 10s. Isa, Paulson and Thompson have not done that yet, though another perfect 10 for any of them would vault them into the conversation on bars and beam.