One more meet.

An afternoon in Los Angeles against the rival UCLA Bruins on Presidents Day.

That is all that remains for University of Utah gymnast Amelie Morgan before she returns home to England to prepare for this year’s English Gymnastics Championships. It’s the first step in what she hopes is a second Olympic journey, culminating in her representing Great Britain at the Paris Summer Games.

Red Rocks on the air


No. 4 Utah
vs. No. 8 UCLA
Monday, 3:30 p.m. MST
Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles
TV: ESPN2
Stream: WatchESPN

That Morgan is leaving the Red Rocks for more than a month in the middle of the college gymnastics season isn’t news. The junior (and bronze medalist at the Tokyo Olympics) announced in late January that she would be attempting to both compete at the NCAA level this winter/spring while simultaneously training for Olympic qualifying competition.

Morgan will leave the country following the No. 4-ranked Red Rocks’ top-10 showdown with the No. 8-ranked Bruins and return in time to compete for Utah at the Pac-12 gymnastics championships on March 23. She will miss four collegiate meets in the process, instead competing at the English championships and then potentially at the British championships.

Morgan isn’t the only collegiate gymnast that is attempting to balance college gymnastics and Olympic dreams. Florida’s Leanne Wong, Oregon State’s Jade Carey and UCLA’s Emma Malabuyo are all attempting the same right now; Wong and Carey in an attempt to make Team USA, with Malabuyo eyeing an Olympic berth with the Philippines.

Malabuyo will actually miss the meet against Utah, as her Olympic qualification process includes competitions in Cairo, Egypt, this Thursday through Sunday, followed by a trip to Cottbus, Germany (Feb. 22-25), and then Baku, Azerbaijan (March 7-10).

Other NCAA gymnastics stars elected to skip the current college season in order to train exclusively for the Olympics, including UCLA’s Jordan Chiles (USA) and Ana Padurariu (Canada), as well as Florida’s Kayla DiCello (USA).

Then there are those gymnasts who could have started their collegiate careers this season, Utah signee Clara Raposo (Canada) being one, but instead elected to defer their freshman seasons in order to train full time for Paris.

The decisions by gymnasts like Chiles, DiCello, Padurariu and Raposo to skip the current NCAA season says a lot about the difficulty of what Morgan is attempting to do: Balancing NCAA gymnastics with Elite gymnastics.

“I would say it is very difficult,” Abby Paulson, a former U.S. national team member, said.

Maile O’Keefe, the reigning NCAA all-around champion and a former U.S. national team member herself, put it another way.

“I mean, people are always saying to me, ‘Oh, you are a college gymnast so you are really good. Does that mean you are going to go to the Olympics?’ And I always have to tell them, ‘No, they are very different.’ So you kind of have to put that in perspective and remind people, NCAA routines are totally different from Elite routines.”

What differentiates NCAA routines from Olympics-caliber ones?

It is largely about difficulty.

Related
Is another trip to the Olympics in the offing for University of Utah standout Amelie Morgan?

“Elite is normally very hard on your body and very hard mentally,” Paulson said. “Not that college isn’t. College is as well, but it is a different scope. In college, you are focusing on the details and consistency. In Elite it is like, how many big skills can I fit in my routine?”

Olympic routines are significantly longer than NCAA routines as a result, with a greater variety of skills of a higher difficulty, too.

Only, Morgan hasn’t been able to focus on just relearning Elite-level skills that she has previously performed. She has had to keep training NCAA-level skills to near perfection, the goal in college gymnastics.

And she has had to do all of it while continuing her schooling at Utah.

To do it all, Morgan has had to train faster than her teammates, daily, and she has also had to volunteer her own time in the gym (NCAA rules limit gymnasts to 20 mandatory hours of training, though they are allowed to volunteer more of their time if they choose).

“A lot of people might think, ‘Oh, they are college skills so it might be easier,’” Grace McCallum, a silver medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, said. “They have their easier skills but then focus more on the Elite stuff. It is a lot harder (than that). You have to volunteer your time. You are only allowed 20 hours in college. You have to volunteer that time. You have to want to come in. You have to have that drive, that self motivation to really want to do it. I think it is a lot harder.”

And you have to plan ahead.

The strain of Elite skills and routines required Morgan be in better physical condition than many, if not all, of her Utah teammates, something she started training for back in the fall.

“I think Amelie took a great approach to it,” Paulson said. “She started with extra fitness instead of trying to learn all of those new skills all at once. So I think she is really strong right now and that is what made it easy for her to get all those skills back that she needs for Elite.”

Watching Morgan pursue her Olympic dreams, while simultaneously helping Utah gymnastics compete at the top of the country yet again, has inspired her Red Rocks teammates. Even those with storied backgrounds like McCallum, O’Keefe and Paulson.

“Seeing Amelie in the gym every day, working to get those skills back, get those connections, I think it is really inspiring and it has pushed a lot of people in the gym to really do their best every day,” McCallum said. “If she can do both college and Elite, we’ve got it. We can do that 20 hours a week when she is doing 20-plus.”

“She has been such an inspiration to the team. Watching her train her Elite routines on top of her college routines, her being able to go pursue her Olympic dreams on top of her college goals has been very inspiring to everybody.” — Utah gymnastics coach Carly Dockendorf on Amelie Morgan

“It is just amazing,” said senior Alani Sabado. “She made this decision in the fall and to see where she is now, I can see how much she’s improved. ... I am a big Amelie Morgan fan and just love watching her do more skills than I knew she could.”

Even Utah head coach Carly Dockendorf has seen the impact.

“She has been such an inspiration to the team. Watching her train her Elite routines on top of her college routines, her being able to go pursue her Olympic dreams on top of her college goals has been very inspiring to everybody.”

Whether Morgan succeeds in making Team Great Britain remains to be seen. Competition for spots is fierce and Morgan has no guarantees beyond getting to compete at the English championships in early March.

There is significant belief in her, though, from those who train alongside her daily.

“She is incredible,” O’Keefe said. “She is super consistent as we’ve all seen and she works super fast. She always has, but time has doubled, that way she can get all of her stuff in. It is just amazing and if there is anyone that can do it, it is Amelie. Excited to see where her journey goes.”

Utah’s Amelie Morgan reaches for the higher bar during her routine as BYU, Utah, SUU and Utah State meet in the Rio Tinto Best of Utah Gymnastics competition at the Maverick Center in West Valley City on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News