As disappointed as she was to fall short of making the 2016 Olympic team, Maggie Nichols didn’t dwell on it. The gymnast from Little Canada had a scholarship waiting for her at Oklahoma, and just weeks after the Olympic trials, she moved on to her next goal: replicating her elite-level success in the college ranks.
This time, she got exactly what she wanted. Nichols enters Saturday’s NCAA regional at Maturi Pavilion as the top-ranked all-arounder in the nation, continuing an astonishing two-year run at the pinnacle of her sport. The Sooners sophomore has recorded 13 perfect-10 scores in her college career, and last week, she was named a first-team All-America in all four events and all-around.
Top-ranked Oklahoma, the NCAA champion in 2016 and 2017, is heavily favored to win the regional and defend its NCAA title. Saturday’s competition also gives Nichols the opportunity to perform before a hometown crowd, adding another layer of anticipation.
“It will be so cool to have my whole family and a ton of my friends and old teammates be able to come watch me,” said Nichols, 20. “I haven’t been in this arena since I was young, to watch the U of M girls. Finally being able to compete here is super exciting. I can’t wait.”
A product of Champlin’s Twin City Twisters gym, Nichols was a world championships gold medalist in 2015 but was hampered by a knee injury at the 2016 Olympic trials. She adjusted swiftly to college gymnastics and earned seven perfect 10s as a freshman, a Sooners career record.
Nichols was the co-NCAA champion on uneven bars last season and a first-team All-America on floor exercise, bars and vault. The Big 12 newcomer of the year won 45 event titles and scored perfect 10s in all four events, becoming only the ninth college gymnast to do so.
This season, Nichols was named Big 12 gymnast of the year. Besides being ranked first in the all-around, she enters the NCAAs also ranked first in the nation in vault, second on balance beam, third on floor and seventh on bars.
“It was a pretty big adjustment from elite to college, but it was pretty easy for me,” Nichols said. “College gymnastics is a lot more team-oriented and a lot more fun. I love every second of it.”
Nichols has not shut the door completely on returning to elite gymnastics, and perhaps another run at the Olympics or world championships, though she won’t make that decision soon.
“I haven’t said no,” she said. “It all depends on where I am after my college career and how my body is. But it hasn’t crossed my mind; right now, I’m just focused on college. Being part of a team is a great experience.”