Seconds before Myia Hambrick stuck a roundoff double pike to end a 9.90 floor routine during Friday’s win against Kentucky, she settled at the far corner of the floor, winking to the crowd.
Preceding the wink was a combination of power tumbling — a stuck double layout on her opening pass — with vaudeville, playful dancing set to funky music in a routine that has yet to score below a 9.9 this season.
“It’s so different from what I would ever think of myself using,” says Hambrick, a sound sophomore all-arounder. “The fun side where it’s just like people loving it and watching like, ‘Wow, this is so fun.’ I’m not really like that in real life.
The routine emerges from her pragmatic persona, off the floor, where she’s often a calming presence, taking both compliment and criticism without ordeal.
Hambrick has captured the all-around title in two of LSU’s first three meets, using this retooled floor presentation to manifest more consistency after a freshman season in which she focused mainly on vault and beam.
She competed her floor routine — a darker, reserved set devoid of any extra emotion — just four times with a high score of 9.875.
“Give me more, I want you to do it and make me feel like you enjoy doing it,” Hambrick would hear from LSU volunteer assistant Ashleigh Clare-Kearney. “Sometimes you do it and it looks like you hate it.”
Clare-Kearney, a former LSU floor anchor, choreographs every Tiger floor routine. The difficulties Hambrick faced in her presentation weren’t uncommon. Club and elite gymnasts are implored to have stern faces, focus on their tumbling and smile only when saluting judges before and after the routine.
“(But) in college, everyone can tumble,” Hambrick said. “When you’re a freshman, because they don’t really know who you are because it comes from your actual personality, they just pick music in a way that you’ll be able to portray it. Kind of in the same way dancers do it.”
LSU has long established its status as a powerful floor team with animated, gregarious performers to go along with that tumbling. Clare-Kearney’s goal was to find a medium for Hambrick this season, fitting her in with the unreserved likes of Ashleigh Gnat, McKenna Kelley and Randii Wyrick.
“As soon as I started choreographing it, I could see her start breaking out of her bubble,” Clare-Kearney said. “You don’t have a choice but to be fun when you’re doing this because you’re going to look crazy if you are boring doing this type of music. She was on board, she was all about it.”
The presentation is more than a smile. Gymnasts customarily use three songs in a floor routine. Where a gymnast looks, who she’s looking at and the facial expressions she uses as each song changes and different beats are played are paramount.
Then a curious conundrum — how does one train such presentation with no fans in the stands and only teammates watching during practice?
“It’s about willingness to do things out of your comfort zone,” said LSU associate head coach Jay Clark. “We’ve had kids in the past that would do it on a competition day, but wouldn’t train it that way. Myia trains it with that same facial expression because I think she has to. It’s not her natural persona, so she works on it in here so it translates into competition.”
When she steps off the floor, Hambrick carries none of the new traits she’s developed. She speaks matter-of-factly, laughing slyly at jokes while keeping the same, straightforward facial expressions.
“It’s better,” Hambrick says. “Because I feel like I can go over there go on floor, and kind of hit a switch to put on a different kind of show.”