Athlete A: How Maggie Nichols Turned Her Heartbreak Into a Stunning NCAA Career

Katie Norris
ST LOUIS, MO - APRIL 21: Maggie Nichols #511 of the University of Oklahoma performs a floor routine during the Division I Women's Gymnastics Championship held at Chaifetz Arena on April 21, 2018 in St Louis, Missouri. UCLA won with a score of 197.5625 points. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - APRIL 21: Maggie Nichols #511 of the University of Oklahoma performs a floor routine during the Division I Women's Gymnastics Championship held at Chaifetz Arena on April 21, 2018 in St Louis, Missouri. UCLA won with a score of 197.5625 points. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

From disappointment comes opportunity, at least for Maggie Nichols. As Netflix's Athlete A reveals, the former elite gymnast was narrowly - and somewhat controversially - left off the 2016 Olympic team after becoming the first to report former team doctor Larry Nassar's abuse to USA Gymnastics and battling back from injury before the trials. But the documentary stops short of delving into Nichols's storied college career, where she turned her losses into a performance for the ages.

Regarded by five-time Olympic gold medalist and friend Simone Biles as "the Michael Jordan of college gymnastics," Nichols's career at the University of Oklahoma won't soon be forgotten. In her freshman year alone - mere months after learning that she wouldn't compete for Team USA in Rio - Nichols earned seven perfect 10s and helped lead her team to the 2017 national title. She also became the ninth collegiate gymnast to ever earn a "GymSlam," notching a perfect score on each of the four events.

Her success didn't stop there, though. Nichols went on to win the national all-around title her sophomore and junior years, becoming only the sixth NCAA gymnast to ever successfully defend an all-around title. (Oklahoma also won the national championship again in 2019.) The Sooner was poised to repeat in her senior year, too, until the novel coronavirus upended those plans, canceling the 2020 season before Nichols got the chance.

However, despite this recent setback - and all the ones that preceded it - Nichols reflects positively on her experience in the sport of gymnastics.

"I look back on my career and I just smile because, even though I did go through the lowest of the lows, I also went through the highest of the highs," she told ESPN. "I experienced some things that people will never experience - traveling internationally for competition and going to world championships, going to national championships, winning national championships, winning world championships." That's something nobody will ever be able to take from her. Watch some highlights from Nichols's NCAA career below.

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