AP Sports Writer
Kyla Ross sensed the motivation waning. Still, the youngest member of the 2012 U.S. women’s gymnastics team that soared to gold in London kept on training, urged by national team coordinator Martha Karolyi to press on toward the 2016 games.
One last trip to the Karolyi Ranch just north of Houston with the rest of the national team last month only confirmed what the quiet and graceful 19-year-old already knew: the unique and exacting drive required to get to Rio was gone.
“I could tell my heart wasn’t fully in it,” Ross said. “I knew after (camp) my time was really up.”
Rather than try to make a run on what could be the most loaded U.S. Olympic team ever, Ross retired from elite competition on Monday with a fistful of medals and a college career at UCLA beckoning. She put off joining the Bruins this winter, but couldn’t stop thinking about what it would be like heading to class or training with her new teammates, a group that includes Olympic teammate and 2011 world all-around champion Jordyn Wieber, who is college gymnastics’ most overqualified team manager.
“Love this girl to death!” Wieber tweeted on Monday afternoon. “SO much respect for Kyla and I can’t wait for her to finally be a Bruin.”
While most the rest of the “Fierce Five” that won the U.S.’s third Olympic title took time off after London to either recharge or capitalize on their newfound fame or both, Ross retained her amateur status and remained training. She finished second in the all-around to Simone Biles at the 2013 world championships — where Ross also took silver on balance beam and uneven bars — and added a bronze in the all-around to go with a team gold at 2014 worlds.
In an era dominated by gymnasts known for their remarkable power, Ross is a throwback. Though her routines sometimes lacked the athletic fireworks of her peers, she made up for it with an elegance and precision that few could match. Coupled with a relentless work ethic and a nearly unflappable demeanor, Ross earned a spot on the 2012 Olympic team three months shy of her 16th birthday.
Not that the stage mattered. Ross posted the second-highest U.S. score on both beam and bars in the team finals as the Americans easily captured gold.
“Being able to just go out and compete at such a high level and a huge stage being able to represent your country has been such a great learning experience,” Ross said. “I’ve really enjoyed all of it.”
She just didn’t revel in it. Her Olympic medal is stuffed in a drawer somewhere in her parents’ home in Aliso Viejo, California. Keeping it would be showing off, which simply isn’t her style.
Though she’s not injured, Ross was forced to deal with a late growth spurt in a sport that doesn’t exactly lend itself to being tall. Her toes scrapped across the mat as she swung from the top uneven bar at the U.S. championships last summer, and her 10th-place finish in the all-around didn’t exactly provide a confidence boost as she eyed another long year to be in the mix for Rio.
“It’s always hard to train when you’re not completely there and committed,” Ross said. “It was a combination of everything.”
The decision to change course didn’t come easy. Her voice cracked occasionally while talking about it on Monday. Yet Ross is well aware this isn’t the end of her athletic career, just the conclusion of a remarkably successful chapter. The chance to write another one awaits with the Bruins next winter.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I’ll get a chance to show a different side of me, that’ll be fun.”