Bridget Sloan has accomplished a lot in her lengthy gymnastics career, but the Florida freshman never has had as much fun in the sport as she is having now.
A native of Pittsboro, Ind., Sloan is a six-time (and current) member of the U.S. Senior National Team and was the youngest member of Team USA’s silver medal squad at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Sloan also was a member of the U.S. teams at the 2009 and ’10 World Championships, and won the 2009 all-around title at the event.
In the Gators’ meet against Ball State on Jan. 4, Sloan became the first all-around World Champion to compete as a collegian. Thirty World Championships’ all-around titles have been awarded since 1938. Sloan won her first event as a Gator in the Ball State meet, posting a score of 9.925 to share the event title with senior teammate Ashanée Dickerson.
While sticking the high score on the vault was exciting in her first collegiate meet, the 20-year-old Sloan was more focused on soaking up the atmosphere of the whole event.
“If elite gymnastics is like black and white, then college gymnastics is like a rainbow,” Sloan said. “In elite, you are very focused and kind of in a zone the whole time. In college, we’re putting on a show at the same time of being focused and doing your routines. It was a lot of fun. I don’t think I’ve had that much fun at a competition … during the competition.”
Sloan may have competed on some of the world’s biggest stages in gymnastics, but she was struck by running out of the tunnel with her team and being welcoming by thousands of cheering fans, even if she was worried about slipping because she was wearing brand-new socks.
“Everything about my first meet is something I want to cherish,” Sloan said. “Everybody said I would always remember my first meet, and I really don’t think I’ll ever forget it. The moment took me over. When I got out of the tunnel and the crowd was waving and cheering, they don’t care what you do and you just want to do them proud.”
Sloan committed to Florida in the spring of 2011, but deferred her enrollment to train for the 2012 Olympic Trials.
“I knew I wanted to do college gymnastics, and I let the schools that I was looking at know that it would be a gamble for me,” Sloan said. “I was looking at the big picture, but I didn’t want to get too far ahead.”
Unfortunately, her quest to earn a spot on the team for her second Olympic Games ended when she suffered an elbow injury during warmups on the first day of the Trials.
With all of her gymnastics accomplishments, Sloan has nothing to prove in the sport. She is doing it just for the love of competing.
“I knew that if I didn’t compete in college, I knew I would regret it,” Sloan said. “When I watched a college meet on TV, it looked like so much fun. They didn’t look stressed or worried, even though they might have been. I knew being the average student would be nice, but being a part of a team at a top-ranked college would be a lot more fun.”
Florida head coach Rhonda Faehn knew Sloan would be one of the most talented gymnasts on the floor for her team, but what she did not expect from Sloan was such a charismatic personality.
“You get little bits here and there, but you really don’t get to know the athlete in-depth unless you’re spending time with them on a daily basis,” Faehn said. “Plus, during the recruiting process, she was competing elite and during competitions they are very serious. During her time here at Florida, I’ve been able to see her personality just blossom and shine. It’s incredible — she has so much energy.
“She’s very serious when she is doing her gymnastics, but when she is done with it, she lights it up whether she is dancing or telling funny stories. It’s so much fun to be around her. She has a tremendous amount of talent and experience, but you would never know it. She’s not a diva, and it’s always about the team.”
At Florida, Sloan has had a reunion of sorts with four of her teammates. She competed with Mackenzie and Bridgette Caquetto and Kytra Hunter at the elite level, and competed against Marissa King — a 2008 Olympian for Great Britain – at international competitions.
“We definitely reminisce on old times,” Sloan said. “Macko, Bridget, Kytra -– the four of us go way back. And I’ve also know Marissa for a very long time. It’s fun to think about our times at the [Karolyi] Ranch, and the time we spent overseas at competitions. It’s fun to look back on it and then look at what is going on right now and think how we ended up on the same team -– what are the odds? Four years ago, we were competing against each other.”
In addition to winning the vault in her first collegiate meet, Sloan also took third on beam and fourth on bars with marks of 9.80 and garnered Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week honors for her performance. When the time is right, Sloan is expected to compete in all four events and the all-around.
“We’re building up right now,” Sloan said. “It’s very different coming from elite, where I competed two or three times a year. Now, I’m competing every weekend and that is a learning experience.”
“I was very thorough with Bridget in the fall in discussions about what our plan was for her knowing that the season is very long and there are quite a few competitions,” Faehn said. “What’s great with Bridget is she is 100 percent accepting that it is different. We may start her out a little slower so she is at her strongest and freshest at the end of the season.”
The depth of the Gator squad takes the pressure off Sloan while adapting to a new competitive situation.
“We are so deep that we don’t need the same six girls competing in every meet,” Sloan said. “It’s nice to be a part of a team like that. When we need rest, we can rest.”
Sloan and No. 3 Florida hit the road to Baton Rouge, La., for the Gators’ SEC-opening meet at No. 8 LSU on Friday at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. It is the first of nine consecutive dual meets against Top 25 opponents for the Gators.