Olympians, NIL, viral videos making NCAA level blow up.

CTN News


On Jan. 14, the University of Arkansas women’s gymnastics team—the Gymbacks, as they are colloquially known—took us to church. Or, at any rate, they competed on hallowed ground, in the 19,000-seat basketball venue named after an Arkansan saint, James Lawrence “Bud” Walton, whom you may recognize from his family’s humble chain of mom and pop department stores. Arkansas’ usual gymnastics competition space, Barnhill Arena, was deemed insufficient to hold the spectators for the Gymbacks’ matchup against Auburn. And lo, the deemers were correct, as the meet—a true squeaker that the Tigers won by half a tenth of a point—did beget a rapturous crowd of more than 10,000 disease vectors, I mean fans. (I live in Oregon, where we still acknowledge there’s a pandemic on; it’s weird, I know.)

Such impressive attendance was due in large part to the three Olympic gold medalists present—two, Jordyn Wieber and Kyla Ross, on Arkansas’ coaching staff, and none other than Tokyo all-around champion Suni Lee in her NCAA debut for Auburn. Slowly recovering from her punishing elite career and a fall term commuting to Dancing With the Stars, Lee competed on floor, beam, and her signature event uneven bars, scoring two excellent 9.875s and a near-perfect 9.95, respectively.

Lee’s anticipated debut marks the first time in gymnastics history that an Olympic all-around gold medalist has gone on to compete in college. While the collegiate ranks have long boasted a plethora of team and individual event medalists—not to mention scores of former elites who didn’t make a nearly impossible Olympic cut of four to six athletes—the U.S.’s juggernaut list of…

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