Katelyn Ohashi's perfect 10 has provided perfect platform
Katelyn Ohashi usually leaves people in awe, what with her flipping, flying, bobbing, bouncing, splitting, smiling floor routine.
But the UCLA gymnast has been the one in awe since that routine went viral.
She’s been congratulated by Jesse Jackson, Gabrielle Union and Kamala Harris. She’s been on Good Morning America and in the New York Times. She’s been imitated by Stephen Colbert.
(Well, sort of. A middle-aged late-night host can only do so much.)
Best of all, she's been able to use the fame from the floor to bring attention to an issue important to her.
“It’s been amazing,” Ohashi admitted about everything that's happened during a recent phone interview with The Oklahoman. “Being able to see the effect that the routine’s left people with … it’s really amazing to see.”
So is Ohashi.
Sunday, she will be in Norman as UCLA and Oklahoma square off in what amounts to a sequined grudge match. Last season, the Bruins denied the Sooners a third consecutive national title, winning the championship by .0375 points.
A bent toe was basically the difference.
And this season, they are almost as close. The Sooners are ranked No. 1, just .211 points ahead of the Bruins.
OU-UCLA is must-see.
Ditto for Ohashi.
On Jan. 12, she debuted a new floor routine. After dancing to Michael Jackson a year ago, she drew inspiration from little sister, Janet Jackson and her “Rhythm Nation” video. Slick moves. Nonstop movement. Driving beats.
Ohashi and UCLA coach Valorie Kondos Field mashed up tunes from Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, and Earth, Wind & Fire, then they put together a routine that is as technically difficult as it is unadulterated fun. There are high-flying tumbling passes and bang-bang skill combinations, but there are also moments when Ohashi claps her hands to encourage the crowd and sticks out her tongue just for grins.
The whole time, her curls bounce and her smile beams.
In the first two days after she first performed the routine — and got a perfect 10 — 13 million people viewed the video of it.
Now, more than 34 million have.
The reaction is always the same.
“How joyous it is,” Ohashi said.
It’s impossible to watch her flipping and twisting and grinning without feeling good. You can tell that the smile on her face and the happiness in her routine is genuine.
That hasn’t always been the case.
Back in 2013, Ohashi was arguably the best hopeful for the 2016 U.S. Olympic team, winning the American Cup and besting Simone Biles.
Then, Ohashi got injured. She had competed for nearly two years with debilitating back pain and was ultimately diagnosed with a displaced vertebrae. It scared her. Scarred her, too. She wondered if she’d ever do gymnastics again.
When she returned carrying a few extra pounds, there were ugly whispers in the gymnastics world. Chubby. Big. Fat. Pig. Elephant.
She wondered if she ever wanted to do gymnastics again.
She left elite gymnastics, but then, she decided she wanted to do college gymnastics at UCLA. There was still pressure to compete and improve and win, but it wasn’t as intense.
Ohashi rediscovered her love for gymnastics.
But she didn’t want to let her experience go to waste, so a couple years ago, she started a blog. She wanted to share what she learned and how others might benefit from it.
One of the topics she started writing about last fall was body image.
“I would say I went through my fair share of body image shaming,” Ohashi said. “It’s something that I’ve been able to share.”
And the fame from her viral floor routine has given her a bigger audience. When she went on Good Morning America, she read a poem about body image, and recently during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, she posted a message to her three-quarters of a million followers on Instagram.
I’ve been consumed with the thought that bigger is synonymous to less than. That only those people with the right, perfect bodies have the right to stand. But here today, I stand, with the love that penetrates deeper than any wedding band. Because I am my own size, and no words or judgmental stares will make me compromise.
More than 80,000 people liked the post.
Ohashi marvels over the platform that gymnastics has given her. One amazing routine became a viral video became a chance to inspire in so many people in so many ways.
“I think timing is everything, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time,” she said. “But I can’t say that I haven’t prepared myself. I’ve been preparing … so the fact that these doors have opened?
“It’s truly a blessing.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.
No. 1 OU vs. No. 2 UCLA
When: Noon, Sunday
Where: Lloyd Noble Center, Norman
TV (announcers): ESPN (Bart Conner, Kathy Johnson Clarke, Holly Rowe)
Tickets: Purchase online at SoonerSports.com or by phone at (405) 325-2424 or (800) 456-GoOU. Tickets can be purchased Sunday at the east and north entrances. The meet is expected to set a program record for attendance, besting the crowd of 5,082 set when the No. 1 Sooners knocked off then-No. 2 Florida on Feb. 1.