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Olympian Chris Waller Takes Over As New UCLA Women’s Gymnastics Coach

By Blythe Lawrence | May 09, 2019, 11:20 a.m. (ET)

Chris Waller on the rings at the U.S. Men's Olympic Gymnastics Trials at the Fleet Center on May 6, 1996 in Boston.


Chris Waller’s ties to the UCLA gymnastics program run deep. 

The 1992 U.S. Olympian has been a Bruin from the beginning, back to the days when UCLA had a men’s gymnastics program and Waller was an Olympic hopeful. A showman with a special flair for pommel horse, Waller’s talent helped the Bruins earn one of their only two national titles in men’s gymnastics during his freshman season in 1987.

His coaching acumen has helped the UCLA women’s team take flight, and after 17 seasons with the team as an assistant, Waller will return to Pauley Pavilion this fall as head coach, having come full circle in his athletic career. The 50-year-old was announced as the new head coach Wednesday, taking over from Valorie Kondos-Field, who retired last month following the NCAA championships after 29 seasons with the program.

“My blood runs Bruin blue, and I cannot wait to continue this journey,” Waller said in a press release from the UCLA athletic department. “It was my great honor to have worked alongside Miss Val for 17 years, and to take the helm of this storied program is a dream come true.”

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NCAA gymnastics was a springboard for Waller, who went on to win the U.S. all-around title in 1991 and took a turn on the Olympic stage at the Olympic Games Barcelona 1992 the next year, helping the U.S. men to a respectable sixth place and earning fifth for himself on pommel horse. 

Men’s gymnastics at UCLA was eliminated in 1994 due to a budget shortfall, but Waller remained deeply involved in the sport. Following his retirement from elite gymnastics, Waller and his wife Cindy opened a gym in Santa Clarita, California, and he was hired as an assistant coach to the UCLA women’s team in 2003.

While Kondos-Field focused on choreography and her special brand of leadership, Waller provided the technical knowledge of the mechanics of gymnastics that Kondos-Field, a former ballerina and choreographer, lacked. Their 1-2 coaching punch resulted in some of the program’s most unforgettable performances, including senior Katelyn Ohashi’s viral floor routines from the past two seasons, as well as NCAA team titles in 2003, 2004, 2010 and 2018.

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.