Trinity Thomas Did It
4:46 PM EDT on April 18, 2023
When Trinity Thomas stepped up to take the final vault of her collegiate career for the Florida Gators, little seemed assured—an exceedingly odd phrase to put anywhere near Thomas's name. Consistency is the essence of gymnastics; the operative question is not can you nail a skill once, it's can you do it again and again and again and stick it every time, and what made Thomas easily one of the greatest collegiate gymnasts in history was just that. She hit. She hit constantly. She recreated skills with such accuracy and ease that it can be tempting to compare Thomas to something cold and mechanical, like a video game or a robot, except that would take away from all the grace and outright charm she also brought to her sport. Watching Thomas, to me, felt like a dream willed into reality, which really is the joy behind so much of sports, seeing the seemingly impossible wrought into life.
Thomas started the season with people, including me, saying her march to the collegiate gymnastics record for most perfect 10s was less a matter of if but rather when. And then, as it has a nasty habit of doing, reality barged in. During regional competition in Pittsburgh on March 31, Thomas stopped part of the way through her floor routine, bent down, put her hands on her knees, then left the floor. The Gators would later announce that Thomas had a lower right leg injury and described Thomas as day-to-day.
For those keeping track, Thomas was at 27 perfect 10s, one away from tying the record held by Jamie Dantzscher (UCLA) and Jenny Hansen (Kentucky). Thomas tying the record, as well as the Gators expected run at a national championship, suddenly felt so far from the sure thing it did when the gymnastics season began.
Thomas returned for the semifinals on April 13, but instead of competing in all four events—vault, uneven bars, beam, floor—she did just two, bars and vault. She earned a 9.900 on vault and 9.950 on bars, helping hoist the Gators into the national championships, which would be held two days later, not nearly enough time for a dramatic change in Thomas's recovery. Watching the finals this weekend, my mind fluctuated between two options: Thomas just competed two days ago on an injured leg to help her team, and there is no way she can pull that off again. Except there is no way Thomas is missing this because she is Trinity freaking Thomas, the gymnast who has completed the vaunted Gym Slam—scoring a perfect 10 on each event—five times (no one else has done it more than twice).
On Saturday, Florida moved onto the vault apparatus, and Thomas appeared, poised to fly down the runway, jump on a springboard, and launch herself off the pommel horse for the final vault of her college career, and her second-to-last chance at a 10. I would not dare try to do any of this on my best day because it would only end with me gravely injuring myself. And there was Thomas, ready to go. On cue, she launched herself into her vault—a Yurchenko 1½—and landed the stick of absolute dreams. Everyone watching knew it was a 10, and soon enough the judges confirmed what our eyes already had seen. Commentator Bart Conner (himself a very decorated former gymnast and, oh by the way, married to the woman who all but invented the perfect 10) seemed to speak for everyone when he proclaimed to his broadcasting partner, Kathy Johnson Clarke, "This is a movie script Kathy!"
Add to all this what the hosts of the GymCastic podcast revealed on their post-championship episode. Per hosts Spencer Barnes and Jessica O’Beirne, it was clear during the warmups before the semifinals that Thomas hadn't vaulted since her injury, made all the more obvious by the huge hugs that Thomas got from teammates as she practiced because, as Barnes put it, "you don't, like, have a nine-minute hug with Trinity Thomas after she does a Yurchenko full, normally."
"She didn't hit a single one before that semifinal performance, and then the same thing in the final," Barnes added. "She did not hit a Yurchenko 1½ in training—until it was go time in the meet, and then she stuck and got a 10."
Thomas finished the competition on the uneven bars. It was not a perfect routine, oh that arm swing upon landing, but that wasn't the point. Thomas began crying from almost the moment she finished, and the crowd roared as she waved because everyone knew what they were watching, the final moments of one of the greats having one last moment in the spotlight. No one would have predicted three months ago that Thomas would tie the record on her second-to-last event and Florida, once again, would finish as runner-up to Oklahoma. And yet, somehow, it felt right, as if all the drama, uncertainty, and incredulity at having to even consider a Gators team without Thomas cemented what had been so evident about her all along: She is one of the greatest college gymnasts (and Gator athletes) in history.