A few weeks ago, Kyla Ross announced her retirement from elite gymnastics, opting out of the Olympic selection procedure. Kyla will continue her gymnastics career at UCLA in the fall.
Ross is best known as a member of the “Fierce Five,” the US Olympic team that won gold in London in 2012. She filled an important American weakness on the uneven bars and contributed a gorgeous and graceful balance beam set.
Although we often think of the Olympics as the pinnacle of a gymnastics career, it was actually the starting point of Ross’ senior elite career. Kyla didn’t take any breaks after London. She came back to competition for the 2013 elite season and garnered individual success at the World Championships. Gymnastics fans dubbed her the Silver Princess after winning silver medals in the uneven bars, balance beam, and all around.
Kyla faced even more competition in 2014, but continued to prove herself. While she only qualified to the all around finals at World Championships in fifth place, in the finals she finished in third, again securing her spot as one of the best all-around gymnasts in the world.
As she continued competing after the Olympics, Kyla became a kind of mentor on the National Team. She was always poised, confident, and incredibly consistent in competition. Her routines lacked the huge difficulty of her competitors, but she made up for this with her beautifully clean gymnastics. While her lack of difficulty bothered some fans, this was always a successful strategy for Kyla. In a video profile last summer, she explains:
I really do, and I think my coaches believe that, just going out there and competing what you feel confident really does help your score…Whenever I go out to compete I just want to compete the routines that I know in the back of my mind that I’ve really perfected. I think that’s my trademark.
This is what made Kyla such a wonderful gymnast. You were never on the edge of your seat waiting for a crazy skill; instead, you could simply sit back and appreciate the beauty of Ross’ elegant gymnastics.
Despite her previous success, it seemed that her clean and simple gymnastics just wouldn’t be enough for the final push to the Rio Olympics. Although Kyla worked desperately to upgrade her routines, a growth spurt and injury led to an uncharacteristically difficult 2015 season. After a disappointing showing at National Championships, she opted out of the selection camp for World Championships. I still had hope for Kyla, assuming she would take the time to heal and come back as consistent as usual, but it seems that these difficulties were just too much for her. After the January National Team Camp, Kyla knew she didn’t have the drive to make it to the 2016 Olympics.
Despite her graceful gymnastics, Kyla has always been teased for being too robotic. After the team was announced at the 2012 Olympic Trials, Ross stood calmly with a smile on her face as her newly named teammates (and I, from my living room) bawled uncontrollably around her. One of my favorite moments of the Games was when Kyla finished her final beam routine in team finals and wiped a tear from her eye, exclaiming, “I cried, Aly!” to teammate Aly Raisman.
I think I first started to love Kyla after the Olympics, when she began working with choreographer Dominic Zito to improve her expressions on floor exercise. Her strength has never been floor, but she worked incredibly hard to improve her movements and the result is one of my favorite elite floor routines
Her newfound expression and emotion added a sense of maturity and confidence to her gymnastics that was wonderful to watch.
It has been a joy to watch Kyla develop from a young, promising gymnast to a mature leader for Team USA. During her time as an elite gymnast, Kyla showed us elegance, consistency, and stunningly beautiful gymnastics. I’m thrilled that Kyla will start at UCLA in the fall. I can’t wait to watch the great college career that lies ahead for her.
Featured image courtesy of USA Gymnastics.