Ding ends career in fashion
Four of six judges gave her 10s in the bars competition
DULUTH, Ga. – Kat Ding’s storied collegiate career was a minute and a half from being complete and she ended it in championship fashion times two.
She defended her bars championship and as a bonus won the floor competition, too – both with career-highs – at the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships at Gwinnett Center.
Ding was dynamite all day. She even led the vault momentarily until she dropped into third behind eventual winner, Florida’s Kytra Hunter, and Alabama’s Diandra Milliner. That would not dampen an otherwise standout day.
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She was near perfect on the bars earning a 10 from four of the six judges to get a 9.9875 to wrap up that title for a second year in a row. But it was the floor title that had everyone talking.
Before this season, she hadn’t done floor since she was a sophomore.
Some of that is attributed to injury. She ruptured a foot at regionals her sophomore year, and last year had stress reaction in her femur. Both injuries effectively shelved her from doing anything as it relates to floor, vault and beam. Bars was all she could do, but even there were restrictions there as she was not allowed to train dismounts or mounts.
All total she had trained all-around this year five times and her performance at nationals was just her 11th time. She made it count.
With a decidedly Georgia crowd behind her, the six-time All-American senior performed as if she had done her routine all her life and came away with a 9.950 to clinch that title.
“I like to play with the crowd when I do my floor routine,” Ding said. “But tonight really wasn’t about my floor routine, it was not about me. It was about enjoying every single moment. I have no more moments. So it’s just living it up for the last minute and a half that it was and enjoying it.”
“That floor routine was the best routine I’d seen her do,” Jay Clark, Georgia’s coach, said. “There were a couple of execution things she’d struggle with maintaining all year in terms of direction and legs being a little loose in places. And we were on her about it all the time, and drill it, and drill it, and drill it, and today she was able to put it all together.”
It was a long time coming for Ding to do that and become an all-around performer. When Georgia signed her they looked at her as an athlete that excelled on bars, but who could also vault. They tried to put her on beam several times both her sophomore and junior year with uneven results.
“It was a disaster,” Clark said. “She would do the job in the gym, but just mentally couldn’t do it. Those two events [floor and beam] are not natural for her. She has to really work at everything she does on those two events.
“We kept telling her, ‘Kat, you’re an all-arounder. You’ve got to believe that.’ Eventually, a lot of it was maturity and getting her to a place where she believed she could compete on all four. When it finally came together, she finally hit that first floor routine in competition, it was like off and running then. She was good.”
Ding said it took from the summer of her junior year to her senior year to finally get it. Once she did there was a whole new side of her and her mentality toward becoming an all-around performer.
“I got to relax, take a step back and know that if I didn’t accomplish this this year, then I had nothing better to do,” Ding said. “There was no time for me to take a step backwards. I could only take a step forwards. So I was really looking forward to finally putting it together on beam, and having enough stamina and being in the right shape, the right health to finish a floor routine.”
Ding has no idea what she will do now that her Georgia career is behind her. She has one class left in the fall and beyond that her plans are wide open. If anyone has deserved a rest is it Ding. She came in a member of the last of Georgia’s five consecutive national championship teams and ends her career with two individual national titles. Not a bad way to go out.
“I think it’s a pretty good legacy to leave behind,” Ding said. “I think I’ve done as much as I can for the program. I’m proud of it. I’m proud of my school and what I’ve become. I’m excited to the next step whatever that step is.”