Sloan looks to build on already historic Florida legacy

Florida gymnast Bridget Sloan performs on the floor during the NCAA Regionals on April 6 in Gainesville. The Gators won the meet to advance to the NCAA Championships.

Matt Stamey / Staff photographer
Published: Friday, January 10, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 8:16 p.m.

When Bridget Sloan opted to continue her gymnastics career at the University of Florida, she made history as the first all-around world champion to compete as a collegian.

By the time her freshman season was over, she had not only become the first person to win World (2009), U.S. (2009) and NCAA (2013) all-around titles, but also won the NCAA balance beam title, was runner-up to teammate Alaina Johnson for the NCAA uneven bars title and helped the Gators capture the program's first NCAA Championship.

Sloan received the 2013 Honda Award as the nation's top gymnast, becoming just the fourth freshman — and second straight Gator (Kytra Hunter, 2012) — in the 37-year history of the award to do so.

So how does she feel about her choice to delay hanging up the leotards?

“It was without a doubt the best decision I have ever made,” Sloan said. “I can't even picture what I would be doing right now otherwise. I would probably be living at home, and my life would be totally different.”

Sloan is not only back, but is pumped for Year 2 with the Gators, who open the 2014 season this Saturday night at UCLA as the nation's No. 1 team in the preseason — another program first.

“Looking at this year, the mindset is totally different,” Sloan said. “Last year, I had no idea what to expect or even how my body was going to handle competing every weekend. This year, I just think I have a better understanding of what needs to be done in order for me to succeed and make sure my body is at its healthiest, not letting the little things get in the way.”

Count UF head coach Rhonda Faehn among those impressed.

“Bridget is incredible,” Faehn said. “She is really mature and just a great competitor, but she does it in such a positive way and has fun with it, which is why I think she's able to do as well as she does. She really knows how to compartmentalize.”

Sloan hasn't just adapted to life as a student-athlete. She has embraced it.

“I absolutely love my college experience here,” she said. “People tell you it goes by so fast, and it really does. My freshman year is already gone and here I am halfway through my sophomore year.

“I've declared a major, I've moved into an apartment, and I'm just growing up right now in so many ways. It's awesome just to look back and see how incredible my life has been since I made the decision to come to UF.”

A look back at Sloan's 2013 performances certainly accentuates her talent, experience and versatility.

She posted collegiate-best marks of 9.975 on the beam and bars, 9.95 on the vault and floor exercise, and a 39.75 all-around score (three different times) that ranks No. 5 all-time at UF and is the third-highest mark in the nation since 2009.

Sloan, the SEC Freshman of the Year, won a team-high 22 events last year, including three SEC titles (all-around, bars, floor) as UF won its second straight conference crown and fourth overall under Faehn (2003-present).

She garnered four first-team All-America honors (all-around, bars, beam, floor) for her efforts at the NCAA Championships as well as four more (first-team all-around, bars and beam and second-team vault) in the inaugural National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches (NACGC) All-America regular-season awards.

There's no resting on laurels, however, in Bridget Sloan's diary.

“She just wants to do new things,” Faehn said. “She is not happy with the status quo. She came back this year and said 'Rhonda, I want to do this in my beam routine this year because I didn't do it last year. I want to change this up, and this is what I want for my floor music.'

“She's just really taking control of her goals for this year and has really stepped up as a leader. I know she is just really excited for the entire team to get out there and start competing, and she's doing great.”

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