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Over the weekend, social media was alive and abuzz about a heart-stopping gymnastic routine from the Collegiate Challenge in Anaheim, California, and we have UCLA athlete Katelyn Ohashi (opens in new tab) to thank. The routine itself is only ninety seconds long, but the 21-year-old athlete jumped, flipped, turned, and showed off her incredible talent across the floor to a mashup of R&B and soul music like Michael Jackson and Tina Turner.
Watching the video, you can see that the audience, and Ohashi's teammates, are enthralled watching her. When Ohashi earned a well-deserved perfect 10 from the judges, the audience erupted in cheers. Her performance ultimately lead the UCLA women's gymnastics team to victory at the end of the competition.
But the best part? This isn't the first time she's gone viral—it's the second time in the span of a year she's elevated to buzz-worthy fame, and it's for good reason. At the 2018 Pac 12 Championships, Ohashi performed a stunning floor routine set to a medley of Michael Jackson hits, like "Thriller" and "The Way You Make Me Feel."
Ohashi exudes joy in her performances, and she's not afraid to smile widely or smirk when she knows she's done well. It's palatable, because it's clear she's having fun, a rare sight in the realm of professional sports.
But Ohashi's gymnastic career wasn't always so full of joy. Born in Seattle, Ohashi did four years on the USA Gymnastic's junior national team, and won the 2013 American Cup, beating teammate (and future four-time Olympic champion) Simone Biles. But behind the scenes, things weren't so great.
Ohashi was under intense pressure competing at the elite level, detailing her journey in a Players' Tribune video (opens in new tab), titled “I Was Broken." Fans told her she wasn't good enough, and she was under pressure to be thin. Video clips of her meets during that time show a stark contrast to the bright smile we saw in her UCLA meets. Ultimately, Ohashi decided to retire from elite gymnastics to become a college athlete, and underwent surgery for a fractured back and two torn shoulders in 2014.
Ohashi had to learn to enjoy gymnastics on her own time, on her own terms, and joined the UCLA Bruins gymnastics team for the 2015–16 season.
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“It’s so weird being in college, because it’s like, you get to cheer for literally everyone, and you’re supposed to,” Ohashi told Lenny Letter (opens in new tab). “But I would get yelled at simply for cheering for Simone [Biles]. It was difficult because I think I finally had freedom, legit, actual freedom, for the first time.”
Freedom looks good on her, don't you think?
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Amanda Mitchell is a writer and podcaster with bylines at Marie Claire, OprahMag, Allure, Byrdie, Stylecaster, Bon Appetit, and more. Her work exists at the apex of beauty, pop culture, and absurdity. A human Funfetti cake, she watches too much television, and her favorite season is awards season. You can read more of her work at amandaelizabethmitchell.com or follow her on Instagram and Twitter @lochnessmanda.
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