Turns out, McKenna Kelley’s kiss to the crowd at the end of her floor routine in Saturday’s NCAA championship meet was indeed a kiss goodbye.
The LSU gymnast, appearing on the “Today” show Thursday morning, announced that she will graduate in May and not seek a fifth year of eligibility in 2020.
“I feel so at peace,” said Kelley, appearing on the show with her mother, Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton. “I don’t think another year of gymnastics could give me anything I needed more.
“LSU, the coaches, the village we like to call it, that team is something so special. I wanted to finish with them.”
Kelley sat out the 2018 season after rupturing her Achilles tendon in practice in November 2017. She wrestled with whether to return in 2020 throughout this season, saying after LSU’s runner-up finish Saturday that she still did not know what her decision would be.
Now she said she plans to be a motivational speaker and writer, “like my mom.”
A four-time All-American, Kelley shared the 2017 Southeastern Conference floor title with former LSU All-American Ashleigh Gnat. She recorded the only perfect 10 of her career on floor March 8 against Oregon State. Kelley’s final routine Saturday was a 9.95 in the anchor position on floor, a routine she ended in tears as she blew a kiss to the LSU fan section in the Fort Worth Convention Center Arena.
“My last thought to you was, ‘Remember this, baby girl, this is your last floor routine,’ ” Retton said to Kelley as they watched the video of her performance on the “Today” set.
“It was such a surreal moment,” said Retton before she added, “It should have been a 10.”
Retton put her four daughters in gymnastics at a young age, though she said she tried not to be overbearing by giving them too many pointers.
One time she did with McKenna, Retton got zinged by the daughter she described as “my spunky one.”
“She was a little bitty kid in the front yard,” Retton said. “She was practicing a roundoff; that’s when you bring your feet together. I was saying, ‘Oh, that’s so good, but why don’t you get your feet together quicker?’
“She looked at me and she goes, ‘What do you know?’ ”
Not much. Just enough to be the first American woman to win the all-around gymnastics gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
“She’s just mom to me,” Kelley said. “That’s all she is.”
Kelley’s decision leaves the Tigers with three seniors for the 2020 season: two-time NCAA vault champion Kennedi Edney, 2016 British Olympian Ruby Harrold and Ashlyn Kirby, who missed much of the 2019 season with a knee injury.
“McKenna, LSU, everybody, it’s been such a great run,” Retton said.
The Kelley-Retton gymnastics dynasty isn’t finished, though. Retton’s youngest daughter, Emma, is scheduled to enroll at LSU in 2020 and compete starting in the 2021 season.
Finnegan named Honda Award finalist
LSU senior All-American Sarah Finnegan has been named one of four finalists for the 2019 Honda Sport Award for gymnastics, the school announced Thursday.
Finnegan, who won her second NCAA uneven bars title last week, is a two-time Southeastern Conference gymnast of the year and won the AAI Award given to the nation’s top senior gymnast.
Finnegan is the sixth LSU gymnast to be nominated for the Honda Award and the first to be a nominee in consecutive years. Three-time NCAA champion Susan Jackson was LSU’s only Honda Award winner in 2010.
The other finalists are Maggie Nichols and Brenna Dowell of Oklahoma and Kyla Ross of UCLA. The winner will be announced next week after a vote of administrators from the NCAA’s 1,000-plus member schools.