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O’Keefe ‘Loving Every Single Second’ of New Life at Utah
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Two-time U.S. junior national all-around champion Maile O’Keefe has found herself at home as a freshman at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and as her first NCAA season progresses, she is finding herself more at ease with the challenges that are unique to collegiate gymnastics.

O’Keefe dominated the 2016 and 2017 U.S. Junior Championships while training under Tammy Salcianu and Sorin Salcianu, her coaches since she began gymnastics at age three, at Salcianu Elite Academy of Gymnastics just outside her hometown of Las Vegas. Her junior international successes included all-around gold at both the 2017 Gymnix International Junior Cup in Montreal and the 2017 Japan Junior Invitational in Yokohama, and all-around silver at the 2017 City of Jesolo Trophy in Italy. She placed third all-around at the 2018 American Cup in her first year at the senior level.

O’Keefe, who turned 18 on February 26, is poised to become just as reliable for the Utah program. Nine weeks into the NCAA season she has already twice won Freshman of the Week honors in the Pacific-12 (Pac-12) conference. She is eager to lend her all-around aptitude to her Utah squad that should contend for the national title at the NCAA Championships in April.

In this International Gymnast Online interview, the enthusiastic and thoughtful O’Keefe share her views on her transition from elite to collegiate gymnastics, the merits of teamwork and her Utah team’s potential.

IG: As the season has progressed, you really seem to have found your groove in terms of performing solidly and confidently. What has been the most challenging part of adapting to collegiate gymnastics, and how have you managed to master this new realm?

MO’K: The most challenging part of adapting to collegiate gymnastics has been the team aspect of things and figuring out how to enjoy things a little more. Elite gymnastics was way more of an individual mindset and it was a lot more serious of an atmosphere. Competing in college makes you rely on your team and do everything you can for your team to be successful.

IG: What has been the most surprising aspect of NCAA gymnastics for you so far?

MO’K: How extremely fun it is! I love being with my teammates!

IG: Having been dominant as a junior elite, and a two-time junior national all-around champion, how are you comparing your individual goals for all-around success with your Utah team goals?

MO’K: I don’t think you can compare the two because they have been two totally different things. My elite success was definitely amazing and so rewarding, but my Utah success so far has been so fulfilling and I am loving every single second of it!

IG: In elite gymnastics, gymnasts compete in big meets far less frequently than in NCAA gymnastics. How are you managing your physical and mental training so you can perform at your peak on practically a weekly basis for Utah?

MO’K: Communication is a big thing for my coaches and me. They realize that I have not competed this often ever before, so they have given me little breaks here and there to rest me. Making sure we are all on the same page has been key and communicating together has made the transition easier. Competing every week has definitely been a big adjustment since coming to college.

IG: Having already achieved so much in your career, how have your goals and perspective on gymnastics changed since you have enrolled at Utah?

MO’K: My goals are no longer based solely on me. My goals are for the team and for the program. One of the things our team says is “All we have is all we need.” This just means we as a team are great and enough, and when we compete we just need to do our thing. Competing on a team has completely changed my perspective of gymnastics.

IG: What classes are you taking this term, and if you are leaning towards a major, what are the top prospects at this point?

MO’K: Right now, I am enrolled in four classes. I am taking Intro to Kinesiology, Writing 2010, Online U.S. History, and a communications class to fill general education requirements. I am leaning towards studying kinesiology as my major.

IG: Given the tight scoring and parity among the top teams in the NCAA, what do you think it will take for Utah to break out of the pack and challenge for the national title in April?

MO’K For Utah to break out of the pack, we just need to keep doing our thing and hit weekend after weekend. We need to focus on settling into the environment on every single event. I don’t think we have hit a full meet yet, and when we do that we will be a very dangerous team. We always seem to have one event that just isn’t what we know we are capable of and have seen in practice. I know once we do that we are challenging the best and we can push for the national title!

Read “Sure Bet,” a five-page cover story on Maile O’Keefe, in the December 2017 issue of International Gymnast magazine.

Photo courtesy to University of Utah.

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