Women's gymnastics: Stanford's Price ready to go big at championship
Whatever happens this weekend in Forth Worth, Texas, at the NCAA women's gymnastics championships, don't expect Stanford to shy away from the moment.
"It's all or nothing right now," sophomore Elizabeth Price said. "We have nothing to lose. Just trying to get out there on the competition floor and give it our all and go big."
Price is the Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year, the second in program history. A contender for the all-around title, she's the defending NCAA champion in the vault.
"Elizabeth Price doesn't have a weakness, really," Stanford coach Kristen Smyth said. "She's got all of the gifts you could possibly want as a gymnast. She is strong, explosive, powerful, yet she is also artistic and beautiful, has great ranges of emotion. Everything that she does is spectacular and it's a 'wow' factor. Not to mention she brings this level of joy and excitement to the sport, as well. People just have so much fun watching her compete, and it raises the level of everyone around her on our team."
The 19-year-old from Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, was an alternate on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team that won gold in London. But rather than pursue a trip to the Rio games this summer, Price chose to focus on academics instead.
"I know a lot of people were surprised when I chose to come to college instead of sticking around," said Price, who retired from elite gymnastics in 2014. "But, I mean, I really always planned on just coming to college and not really trying for a second Olympics."
Her time on The Farm didn't get off to a good start. She enrolled in a summer bridge program at Stanford prior to her freshman year, then broke her foot on a scavenger hunt.
"I was so upset because she's not even in school here yet," Smyth said. "I felt responsible. She's on our campus, and before we even have the chance to work with her and have her be a part of our program, she gets injured. So I just felt horrible and not happy to say the least. But maybe in retrospect, when I think back on it, it could have been just the very best thing for her because it gave her some forced rest."
Time off following the rigors and demands of elite training, Price was able to ease into her NCAA career. She didn't even perform in the all-around until the NCAA championships, adding the beam as her fourth and final routine.
"When someone's up there doing a routine, it's like everyone is involved," Price said of the team atmosphere. "We're so invested in everything they do, and we know they've worked so hard to be able to hit their routine when it counts."
Injuries have plagued the Cardinal this year, with only 10 out of the 14 on the roster healthy for this weekend.
"Everyone that wasn't hurt had to be competing every single weekend," Price said. "So we needed everyone to be very consistent if we wanted to get to where we are now. We knew that it would be a lot of pushing and giving your all 24/7. And we were able to do it and pull together to make it to nationals."
Fifth-year senior Ivana Hong, who has endured her share of injuries at Stanford, is the only member of the team to compete in a pair of Super Six finals, which will take place Saturday as the field of 12 teams is chopped in half during the preliminaries.
"She is absolutely a magnificent, beautiful, artistic gymnast -- one of the most beautiful in the world," Smyth said. "She's come back from two ACL surgeries and is leading our team, always. And will be hopefully doing the all-around for the first time this year at the national championships. In the twilight of her career, she is peaking at 23 years old and leading her team with her passion for her sport and her consistency and her artistry. Just her love for gymnastics and the program."
Price began her gymnastics career at the age of 3, making her a student-athlete nearly all of her life. She will be back in the classroom on Monday, comfortable with her choice to forego the Olympics.
But she wants to return an NCAA champion.
"At NCAAs there's a lot of energy in the air," Price said. "And it really comes down to every routine, every little mistake and every little correction that you make counts to where you could end up in the finals, because this is really the best of the best."
This article was written by Vytas Mazeika from Palo Alto Daily News, Calif. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.