UCLA’s Norah Flatley finishes fourth on balance beam at NCAA championships

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There was no better place for Norah Flatley to hang up her crown.

Flatley, UCLA’s ‘beam queen’, finished her last competition as a UCLA gymnast on her best event, capping it NCAA Championships overall performance with a 9.9375 on the beam Thursday in Fort Worth. The senior placed fourth in her best event and seventh in the all-around with a total score of 39.6. Rookie Jordan Chiles concluded his first season with a 14th-place finish on floor.

Flatley wiped away tears after taking down the balance beam and hugging assistant coach Kristina Comforte. She said she felt a rush of relief. Flatley was surprised that the emotions didn’t take over before the competition, but she said afterwards that she was having too much fun to cry during the competition.

“It was really good to end on that note,” Flatley said.

Head coach Chris Waller called Flatley the team’s MVP for her consistent all-around performances, despite having rarely competed in the all-around during her college career. The three-time U.S. National Junior Team member came to UCLA as a standout beam. His artistry and confidence in the event were evident from the start: at age 13, his score of 15.2 on beam at the US Classic was the highest of any junior or senior competitor in an area that included Olympic gold medalists Alexandra Raisman and Kyla Ross.

But on Thursday, she showed she wasn’t just a one-event gymnast. The 22-year-old performed a triple-twisting back layout on her first tumbling pass on the floor, glued her jump perfectly and hit her bars routine. To top it off, she earned a perfect 10 from one of the six beam judges.

It was “an incredible conclusion to his career,” Waller said.

Flatley has ended his career just as Chiles is digging his own. The former elite gymnasts started competing together 10 years ago. They went from playing together on the national team to wearing matching blue and gold leotards on Thursday. The trip almost brought Chiles to tears.

“Nori, you’ve been a role model, a mentor, someone I can look up to,” Chiles said as he sat next to Flatley during a videoconference. “I can’t thank you enough for the inspiration you gave me to become a better version of myself, not only in the gym but also outside of the gym.”

Chiles, an Olympic silver medalist, fell on bars for the second time this season, but bounced back with a floor routine filled with Olympic-level difficulty. She started her routine with a double full twist layout, one of the toughest tumbling passes in Thursday’s competition, and finished with a 9.925. While Flatley waited to compete in the bars, she danced to Chiles’ floor music.

After competing in the Olympics, Chiles said his goal for his first season at UCLA was simply to experience national championships, either as an individual or with his team.

For Waller, seeing his gymnasts compete alone was bittersweet as he celebrated the end of Flatley’s outstanding career while watching other teams enjoy the big stage together.

“It’s just a stab at us that we didn’t qualify here,” Waller said. “And it brings so much more motivation to make sure we’re back here next year.”

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