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 her NCAA championships all-around performance with a 9.9375 on balance beam Thursday in Fort Worth. The senior placed fourth on her top event and seventh in the all-around with a total score of 39.6. Freshman Jordan Chiles wrapped up her first season with a 14th-place finish on floor.
Flatley wiped tears away after she dismounted the beam and hugged assistant coach Kristina Comforte. She said she felt a rush of relief. Flatley was surprised the emotions didn’t take over before the meet, but she said afterward that she was just having too much fun to cry during competition.
“It just felt 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 even though she had rarely competed in all-around during her collegiate career. The three-time U.S. junior national team member came to UCLA as a beam standout. Her artistry and confidence on the event were evident early: At 13, her beam score of 15.2 at the U.S. Classic was the highest of any junior or senior competitor in a field 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 in her opening tumbling pass on floor, stuck her vault perfectly and hit her bars routine. To cap it off, she earned a perfect 10 from one of the six beam judges.
It was “an incredible conclusion to her career,” Waller said.
Flatley finished her career just as Chiles is digging into hers. The former elite gymnasts started competing together 10 years ago. They went from starring on the national team together to wearing matching blue and gold leotards Thursday. The journey nearly brought Chiles to tears.
“Nori, you have been a role model, a mentor, somebody that I can look up to,” Chiles said while seated next to Flatley on a video conference. “I can’t thank you enough for the inspiration you have given me to become a better version of myself not only in the gym but outside the gym as well.”
Chiles, an Olympic silver medalist, fell on bars for the second time this season but rebounded with a floor routine packed with Olympic-level difficulty. She opened her routine with a full-twisting double layout, one of the hardest tumbling passes during Thursday’s competition, and finished with a 9.925. While Flatley waited to compete on bars, she danced along with Chiles’ floor music.
After competing at the Olympics, Chiles said her goal for her freshman season at UCLA was to just experience nationals, whether as an individual or with her team.
For Waller, seeing his gymnasts competing alone was bittersweet as he celebrated the end of Flatley’s standout career while watching other teams enjoy the big stage together.
“It’s just a twist of the knife that we didn’t qualify here,” Waller said. “And it brings so much more motivation to make sure we’re back here next year.”