Kyla Ross competes on balance beam at a meet against Stanford on March 10, 2019 in Los Angeles.
They call her Kyla Boss, and with reason: in three seasons at UCLA, Olympic gold medalist Kyla Ross has carved out a unique place for herself in NCAA gymnastics history, to go alongside with the place she already occupies in the elite echelons of the sport.
At this weekend’s NCAA championships in Fort Worth, Texas, Ross claimed a share of the national title on both vault and floor exercise, all the while helping lead the Bruins to a third-place finish.
The victories on what were once considered her weaker events give Ross a total of four individual NCAA rings overall, tying a long-held UCLA record. With a 2018 NCAA team title and 2017 NCAA bars and beam wins, Ross also becomes only the second gymnast, after 2004 Olympic silver medalist Courtney Kupets, to have won an individual NCAA title on every event. It’s a unique legacy, and she still has a year of gymnastics in front of her.
Here are seven times Ross has comported herself like a boss on and off the competition floor.
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An Auspicious Beginning
As a 12-year-old in 2009, Ross was an untested newcomer who had only been an elite gymnast for a few months, but that didn’t stop her from swooping in to win the U.S. junior national title on her very first try, defeating more experienced names, including present-day Georgia star Sabrina Vega. The calm imperturbability she would become known for was evident even then.
Cool Under The Olympic Lights
In her first year of senior level eligibility, Ross became the youngest member of the “Fierce Five” U.S. women’s team that swept to team gold at the Olympic Games London 2012. Just 15, she led Team USA off on precarious balance beam in the team final, delivering one of the best routines of the night and contributing to the momentum that ended with the Americans at the top of the podium for the first time in 16 years.
Choices That Work For Her
The lure of sponsorships and other lucrative opportunities attracts many Olympic gold medalists, many of whom give up their NCAA eligibility to capitalize on commercial prospects following the Games. Ross considered, but ultimately opted to keep her commitment to UCLA, wanting to experience the camaraderie of NCAA gymnastics. She returned to elite gymnastics in 2013 and 2014, earning five world medals (including all-around silver and bronze) and accolades for her elegance, before retiring from elite competition in 2015 to prepare for college.
Making NCAA History Just By Showing Up
In the winter of 2016, along with UCLA teammate and Rio Olympic team gold medalist Madison Kocian, Ross became the first Olympic gold medalist to compete in NCAA gymnastics. Competing at UCLA has brought an important new element to her work, she commented in a recent email interview with TeamUSA.org. “I feel like I’ve always been a great competitor, but I feel like before in elite gymnastics I definitely had more of a serious mentality and didn’t compete with as much joy, but after coming to UCLA and being with such a high-energy team I learned how to compete,” she said. “It’s such a fun energy and I’ve really enjoyed it and it’s contributed to a lot of my success this season.”
Vault and floor proved hard for Ross during her freshman season, and for help she turned to a familiar face — 2012 Olympic teammate Jordyn Wieber, now UCLA’s volunteer assistant coach. “I think competing all-around was the biggest goal, and getting stronger on floor after my freshman season was my biggest goal,” Ross said. “And then just sophomore year, having competed all-around was great, but I think I wanted to be even stronger on those events, vault and floor. Those were my main focus this past preseason, and I think just putting in the work on vault and floor has been what’s contributed a lot to helping me have a solid all-around each meet for my team.”
Ross will turn 23 in the fall, and she’s one of many familiar faces proving that high level gymnastics is doable well into a woman’s twenties.
Not Resting On Her Accolades
“It’s been really great to have that new goal each season, which helps me, having done gymnastics for so long,” Ross said. “Next season I’m probably going to have a new goal, probably like changing up my routines a little bit, hopefully to add some sort of new and fresh energy.” Among those skills is a Bhardwaj transition on uneven bars and a Shaposhnikova half from the low bar to the high bar, both more often seen at the world championships than at NCAA meets. Like a boss.
Blythe Lawrence is a journalist based in Seattle. She has covered two Olympic Games and is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.