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“Layout first. Pop off the table.”
Those are the words gymnast Mei Li Costa ’22 says to herself before she sprints down the strip of carpet that leads to a springboard and a vault table, a piece of equipment that resembles a giant tongue.
At the Ivy Classic, Costa notched a career-high 9.800 to tie for first and help the Bears to a season best 48.550 on the event. Vault happens more quickly than beam, bar and floor routines, making it difficult for the untrained eye to fully observe. Costa’s near-perfect performance took less than 10 seconds to complete but, upon closer inspection, consists of multiple distinct elements.
Before saluting the judges to signal that she is ready to compete, Costa jumps around to stay loose and receives a pep talk complete with two fist bumps from team co-captain Gabby Hechtman ’19. As the anchor of the lineup, Costa watches five of her teammates complete their skills before stepping up to perform her vault.
First comes the all-important run. Costa begins her trip down the runway with a slight skip, then steps with her left foot to initiate the explosive sprint she will need to generate power going into the springboard. She takes ten steps before hurdling into a roundoff a few feet from the board, where her feet will land to bounce her backward onto the table.
This skill is named after the first woman to do it in competition, Soviet gymnast Natalia Yurchenko, and is very popular among collegiate gymnasts. The roundoff — a cartwheel that lands with both feet together — generates more speed and power, which Costa uses when pushing off the vault table to get as much air time as possible.
Once airborne, Costa flips in a laid-out position with her body perfectly straight. While flipping, she pulls her arms into her chest to initiate a 360-degree twist to the left.
She rarely focuses on the landing, because if she tries “too hard to just stick it, (she) loses the rest of the vault.” Instead, she concentrates on going “as big as (she) can.”
At the Ivy Classic, Costa had a small form break in her layout and took a step on her landing, but because she maintained control and kept her chest up, the judges only deducted 0.15 off the start value.
In 2015, the NCAA devalued full-twisting Yurchenko vaults from a 10 to a 9.950, meaning Costa is incapable of scoring a perfect 10 unless she adds another 180-degree twist.
But the extra half-twist may not be necessary, considering Costa put up a winning score without it. “She was higher and farther back than everybody else was in the field,” said Assistant Coach Jim Hayes. “She broke out her best, biggest vault, and that’s what won her the Ivy League title.”
That individual Ivy win was the first for a Brown gymnast since Caroline Morant ’17 claimed three in 2017. When Costa was called up to the podium in a tie for first place, she thought it was a mistake. After her vault, the scoreboard showed a 9.775, but the judges had actually given her a 9.800. The error went unnoticed until the award ceremony, where she thought she tied for second. “They never called my name, and I was like, ‘Oh okay, they just forgot about me.’ I was just going to sit there,” she remembered with a laugh. “When they called my name for (first place) … it was a nice surprise!”
In addition to the event title, Costa also picked up First Team All-Ivy Classic Honors on vault and Second Team recognition on the uneven bars.