All the pressure in the world used to be on teenage gymnasts leading up to the Olympics. The signature sporting event only takes place once every four years, placing the supreme onus on the athletes to make sure they perform in what might be their only window to participate on the big stage. Of course, if and when they qualified for the Olympics, the eyes of the world would be closely watching their every move, judging individuals many did not know existed a couple of weeks prior.
There’s still a lot of stress associated with the Olympic experience, as Simone Biles’ tribulations highlighted during the last cycle. However, it’s possible that the tension leading up to the Olympics has been somewhat eased due to the introduction of name, image and likeness in college sports.
Some sports fans are old enough to remember when NIL wasn’t a part of the landscape (think a couple of years ago). In that format, gymnasts had to put their heart and soul into the competition, with the hopes of winning a medal and parlaying that success into branding efforts. The most successful gymnasts would be able to capitalize on that fame shortly after the Olympic Games, and the really fortunate ones would have staying power many years after their memorable performances.
The difference between capturing a medal and falling just short was massive, and the gap between qualifying for the Olympics and missing out was even larger. Vanessa Alter knows this all too well, as she was set to cash in during the late 1990’s, but those visions never came to fruition.
“That was the moment it hit me. I didn’t know anything other than gymnastics, and when it was gone, I regretted my decision(to turn pro). I never thought the (amateurism) rule would change,” she recalled. Via ESPN.com
For Alter and many other gymnasts before and after, there was a singular chance to emerge from the shadows and get into a position of prominence.
However, the reality has changed in the NIL era. At this point in time, gymnasts in college can profit off of their name and likeness, which allows them to become more well known to the public before they ever hit Olympic soil. It’s also completely changed the atmosphere of competitive gymnastics at the national level.
Konnor McClain was once faced with the same life-altering fate Alter and countless others were, but she now has the flexibility to craft a career the way she wants to. It’s been a welcome change for her and her contemporaries.
“They’re bringing the fun. We didn’t always have fun like they do on NCAA teams. Elite(gymnastics) was so serious and now it’s a little happier. And fans who only watched NCAA are watching elite now. NIL is bringing the two worlds together,” McClain said. Via ESPN.com
NIL has flipped gymnasts into a routine that it seems like they could certainly get used to, which ultimately feels like a good thing for the sport