Perfection in gymnastics is very hard to achieve. Perfection on one apparatus is achieved only a few times during an NCAA season. Perfection in more than one apparatus by the same gymnast during the same meet is rare. Perfection on all apparatuses by the same gymnast during an entire career is also rare. Perfection on all apparatuses by the same gymnast during the same meet is almost impossible. It happened only once.
The only perfect 40 in NCAA gymnastics history was achieved by Georgia’s Karin Lichey on 23 February 1996, in a home duo meet against Kentucky.
‘I do remember this day’, Karin Lichey recalled, according to ncaa.com. ‘I just do not remember too many specifics. I was not feeling well that day and told the assistant coach. He said “let’s just take it one event at a time”. And then I got 10 after 10, and so I kept going.’
Lichey was only a freshman back then, and the famous meet was only the eighth of her career.
‘I was only a freshman when this happened’, Lichey said. ‘And when you are young, you just go with the flow. I was competing for the team and it was pretty exciting’.
Georgia was competing at home at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia, and for the Gymdogs the competition unfolded according to the Olympic order – vault, bars, beam and floor. Lichey also scored her four perfect 10.0s in this order. After a stuck vault and a hit uneven bars routine, Lichey was on fire on beam, where she stuck a very difficult double-tuck dismount, and on floor, where she opened with a hard full-in pike.
During the same meet, Lichey’s teammate Lori Strong also scored a perfect 10.0 on the uneven bars. Georgia eventually beat Kentucky 197.525–193.525.
‘My dad was at this meet’, Lichey added, ‘his plane was delayed and he walked in right when we were starting vault. After it was over, we went to a local pizza place to celebrate with fans. He called my mom and she called to double check with the coach because she did not believe him.’
Head coach of the Georgia Gymdogs back then was the legendary Suzanne Yoculan, who led her team to eight NCAA national titles. Her assistant coach was Jay Clark, who is now associate head coach at LSU. Yoculan retired in 2009, but is currently back at Georgia as a volunteer assistant coach.
This seems an appropriate time to recount this story. For twenty-one years, no gymnast has ever achieved another perfect 40.0. The closest have been three perfect 10.0s in the same meet. Things may change soon, however. Oklahoma’s Maggie Nichols scored a huge all around score of 39.925 during the 2017 season, as a freshman, a score collegiate gymnastics had not seen in a very long time. And fans have started dreaming: has the time come for a second perfect 40?