How should records broken and/or set by gymnasts who compete for five years in college be valued?

It is a question that has existed in the background ever since the NCAA gifted athletes an additional year of eligibility due to the pandemic.

And it is a question that has now risen to the forefront where NCAA women’s gymnastics is concerned, with multiple fifth-year seniors, including Utah’s Maile O’Keefe, making runs at the record books this season, either for their team or NCAA gymnastics history.

O’Keefe herself wanted to break Utah gymnastics’ perfect 10 record on balance beam, both in a season and for a career, in her first four years at Utah in order to avoid questions about the validity of her records.

“It really was a goal to break that record in four years. That way people couldn’t be like, ‘Oh she needed a fifth year to do it,’” O’Keefe said.

Still, O’Keefe is now a perfect routine away from holding Utah’s record for most perfect 10s in a career, although her run on Utah history has prompted questions.

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Former University of Utah standout MyKayla Skinner is one of those questioning records set by gymnasts afforded a fifth year of competition (Skinner competed only three years in college, deferring her final season in order to train for the Tokyo Olympics).

Skinner recently wrote on X: “Okay hear me out. I’ve been thinking about this and wanna know what you think. … College athletes that got an extra year to compete because of Covid have been breaking records. But is that really fair? All the other athletes only got 4 years. Will these records ever break?”

She later added: “I totally get getting a 5th year because you got hurt and didn’t get a whole season. I’m talking about Covid 5th years cause the teams that competed made it all the way to Pac-12s and only missed regionals and nationals. And most team don’t make it to nationals. And the seniors that year didn’t get an extra year, but the freshman and up did! So that’s basically a total of 5 years. If you get an extra year for getting hurt it’s by a certain date cause if you make it too far in the season you don’t get one.”

“... If I was a record holder and someone beat mine because they got 5 years & I only got 4 I would be annoyed! But that’s just me!”

Skinner was on hand at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City to watch O’Keefe tie Theresa Kulikowski’s perfect 10 record at Utah, which no doubt spurred her question, but O’Keefe isn’t the only fifth-year senior threatening to etch her name in history this season thanks to an additional year of competition.

Utah’s Maile O’Keefe reacts after finishing a 10.0 beam routine as the Utah Red Rocks compete against Oregon State in a gymnastics meet at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. Utah won. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Jaedyn Rucker is a perfect 10 on vault from holding Utah’s all-time record on that event in a career. She has already tied the record for the most perfect 10s on vault in a single season, with three last year.

Michigan’s Gabby Wilson and Sierra Brooks likely won’t break the Wolverines’ all-time record for perfect 10s (in either a season or a career) but with one perfect 10 apiece for both this season already, they have moved into a tie for seventh all-time in program history (in a career) and could easily rise as high as fourth or fifth if things break right for them.

As it is, the gymnast just ahead of them in Michigan’s record books is Natalie Wojcik, who herself competed five years and added the sixth perfect 10 of her career during her fifth season with the Wolverines.

Kentucky’s Raena Worley won’t come close to breaking most of the records set by Jenny Hansen, but with two perfect scores on floor already this season, she is now second in Wildcats history on that event and Hansen’s six perfect scores on floor don’t seem insurmountable at the rate that Worley is now racking up 10s with her tumbling.

The most famous gymnast to benefit from a fifth year — when it comes to perfect 10s — is former Florida Gators star Trinity Thomas.

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Thomas was a perfect 10 machine throughout her time at Florida, with 20 through her first four years.

Then as a fifth-year senior last year, she added eight to her career total, tying the aforementioned Hansen and UCLA’s Jamie Dantzscher in the process, while also jumping ahead of Georgia’s Hope Spivey, Karin Lichey and Kim Arnold, as well as Oklahoma’s Maggie Nichols and UCLA’s Kyla Ross.

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Those last two gymnasts — Nichols and Ross — are especially interesting as both finished their careers with 22 perfect 10s, but they didn’t get to compete their entire senior seasons due to the onset of the pandemic, whereas all gymnasts who were on NCAA rosters for the 2021 season were made eligible for an additional season.

As it currently stands, two of the 13 gymnasts with the most perfect 10s in NCAA history (Thomas and O’Keefe) have benefitted from a fifth season, and it is possible that LSU’s Haleigh Bryant (currently with 12 perfect 10s in her career) becomes the third if she returns next season for a fifth year.

Like it or not, though, given the NCAA awarded the extra year of eligibility, records set by fifth-year gymnasts will go down in history, sans asterisks, meaning Thomas, O’Keefe and others’ place in history is assured.

“That history is going to be there forever,” Utah gymnastics head coach Carly Dockendorf said. “(O’Keefe) has worked for that all five years and that will never be erased. It has been fun to watch her perfect her skill and get better, which is hard to believe, but she truly has continued to get better.”

Utah’s Maile O’Keefe does a 10.0 beam routine as the Utah Red Rocks compete against Oregon State in a gymnastics meet at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. Utah won. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
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