After winning Olympic silver, Utes gymnast Grace McCallum is ready for Red Rocks’ big expectations

The acclaimed freshman will make her Huntsman Center debut on Friday night

(Jeff Roberson | AP) Grace McCallum after competing on the beam during the women’s U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials Sunday, June 27, 2021, in St. Louis.

Utah’s gymnastics team has seen a number of elite gymnasts throughout the years, but arguably none has had a more anticipated arrival than Grace McCallum.

With that anticipation comes pressure.

“There are expectations,” the Utah freshman said. “I think this team can be special and it depends on how hard we work and push each other to do our best every day. I hope I can contribute and be a positive influence.”

McCallum knows a thing or two about dealing with pressure.

The Ute gymnast begins her collegiate career fresh off her appearance at the 2020 Olympics, where she had a larger role than expected in the Americans’ silver medal finish. McCallum competed on all four events after star Simone Biles unexpectedly pulled out of the competition. She served as the leadoff gymnast, one of the difficult slots in the lineup since she set the tone for the team.

McCallum handled the pressure well, hitting all of her routines in the competition. Even though the Americans failed to win the gold as expected, finishing behind Russia, McCallum’s reputation was helped, not tarnished, by her efforts.

Getting her on the Utah campus is something Utah coach Tom Farden has long hoped for, going back to the days he first learned of her when McCallum’s coach called him and said he needed to keep an eye out on the rising 12-year-old star.

Red Rock Preview

The Utes will hold their annual Red Rocks event Friday at 7 p.m. in the Huntsman Center. The event is open to the public and will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks. Fans are encouraged to wear masks.

“She was a hard-working gymnast who got through her assignments at a fast pace,” Farden said. “When you see that, see someone get through them and then move on to something else to work on, you wonder where that is going to take them.”

Wonder no more, she has arrived in Salt Lake City, ready to help Utah achieve its lofty goals.

McCallum hasn’t been with the Utes as long as many of her teammates, since she participated in a post-Olympic tour, but still expected to have plenty to show off to fans when the Utes hold their annual Red Rocks event Friday at the Huntsman Center.

McCallum was as interested in seeing what it would be like in the Huntsman Center as fans likely were in seeing her skills in person.

“I am super excited,” she said. “I love competing and college is going to be whole new experiences. This team works so hard and I know they are going to push me to be a better gymnast.”

That kind of attitude is just what Farden likes about McCallum. In addition to her natural skills, McCallum is a hard worker who doesn’t plan to treat the Utes’ season like another post-Olympic tour, she wants to keep pushing.

“She is from the same gym as (current Ute) Abby Paulson who is another hard worker,” Farden said. “She is from Minnesota and I love the Minnesota mentality of rolling up the sleeves and working hard. She is a competitor and she is humble.”

The Utes have one of their deepest teams in history, with the lineup going at least eight deep on every event, but McCallum is talented enough to compete on everything. She has a 10.0 vault and has a difficult balance beam and floor routine. Her uneven bars routine will be one fans won’t want to miss.

“She has power but a nice blend of artistry too,” Farden said. “She is a little behind because she went on tour and we have to be smart with her training, but she has jumped right back into things.”

The Utes return all but one routine from their NCAA lineup and welcome other talented freshmen in Kara Eaker, an Olympic alternate, Amelie Morgan, an Olympian for Great Britain, and Sage Thompson, a three-time junior Olympic national qualifier.

Even though she is a college rookie, McCallum knows there will be a lot of pressure on the Utes to do well in the upcoming season based on the strength of the roster.

McCallum said life has been a blur since the Olympics and she hasn’t had time to really process what she did. But she also is thinking about the future and what she can do for the Utes, who finished third at the NCAA Championships.

“Going to the Olympics is something I wanted to do my whole life,” McCallum said. “But competing in college will be something great too. Being in the atmosphere of 15,000 fans is going to be really exciting.”

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