Maggie Nichols’ gymnastics career may have been cut short, but it’s clear the gymnast’s impact on her sport will continue for a long time to come.
“I just hope to be remembered by not only my accomplishments [in gymnastics], but the things I also did outside the sport, just spreading positivity and being courageous,” Nichols told Olympic Channel earlier this week. “No matter what you’re going through, you can get through it.”
Nichols herself has persevered through a lot. The 2015 World Championships team gold and floor exercise bronze medallist revealed in 2018 that she was the gymnast described as ‘Athlete A’ in USA Gymnastics complaints against its former team doctor. Since that revelation, Nichols has become one of the sport’s strongest voices and advocates.
She did all that while being one of the sport’s stars at the collegiate level, winning back to back NCAA all-around titles in 2018 and 2019 and helping her Oklahoma Sooners to team titles in 2017 and 2019.
“Knowing that the hard work I put into the gym and speaking out and things like that, it really does [show] that hard work pays off,” said Nichols.
Maggie Nichols: New role
Oklahoma and Nichols were ranked No. 1 in the national standings in the middle of March 2020 and seemed destined for more NCAA titles.
But then came the coronavirus pandemic, shuttering the sports world and cancelling the NCAA gymnastics season just prior to the conference, regional and national championships.
“I can’t believe it’s [been] a year,” Nichols said. “The day that we were told that season was done was a really sad and devastating time. I know that us seniors at the University of Oklahoma, we were really sad and kind of got together and just hung out that day.
“It still hurt a little bit that we didn’t get to finish our last routine the way we wanted to,” Nichols continued. “But just knowing that we finished the best [we could] that last moment is what kind of gets us through that.”
Nichols ended her competitive career with eight NCAA titles, in addition to her two World medals.
Now, she finds herself in a new role in the sport: coach. Nichols, who began classes for a Master’s degree in intercollegiate administration this week, is serving as a student coach for the 2021 season.
“I've been actually making this decision for a few years now,” Nichols sad. “[Coach] K.J. [Kindler] kind of brought it up to me, I think, my sophomore year, just because I was going to stick around for a fifth year, no matter what, to get my Master's.”
It’s an exciting new chapter, Nichols says, though she’s not certain if her future will be as a coach.
“I don't really know exactly what I want to do yet. I'm still trying to figure it out, but I think that getting this experience with coaching will really help me make a decision,” Nichols admitted. “But I know I want to be involved with athletics, whether that's coaching or as an athletic director working in the athletic administration.”
For the time being, she’s enjoying her new role and learning it might not be as simple as she once thought.
“[There’s] a lot of differences that I didn't really realise,” said Nichols. “Just realising how difficult it is to make up an assignment and things like a beam assignment or a bar assignment, things like that, there's a lot more that goes into it than just what I thought before. The coaches really do a lot of work behind the scenes that you don't really realise.”
That work behind the scenes has paid off year after year for the Sooners. And Nichols believes that the abrupt end to last season pushes them harder than ever.
“I think it burns a fire underneath them and gives them a lot of motivation to keep that same energy and keep that same rhythm that we had last year and to stay at the top or to keep climbing to win the national title,” she said. “I think that not being able to go to Big 12s and regionals and nationals last year really fuels them to take it all this year and win that national title.”