Special thanks to Stanford’s Assistant Director for Communications Maddie Heaps who helped me set up an interview with Chloe Widner.
LSU’s gymnastics team will have a guest competing with them at nationals in their semifinal session Thursday at 2 p.m. Chloe Widner is a senior at Stanford who qualified to nationals as an all-arounder with a 39.550 in the Los Angeles Regional semifinals, the highest score among gymnasts on teams who did not advance to regionals and tied for the third-highest score among all gymnasts across the two semifinal sessions with Utah’s Maile O’Keefe. She’ll be attempting to win Stanford’s fifth (or more) individual national title and the program’s first since 2018 when Elizabeth Price shared the national bars title with Oklahoma’s Maggie Nichols.
Widner is from Frisco, Texas, and trained at the same club as Kiya Johnson, KJ Johnson and Annie Beard. This is her first appearance at nationals, something that’s been a dream of hers ever since she heard that the NCAA was moving nationals to Fort Worth for several years back when she was in high school. She was an Arizona commit, but she switched her commitment to Stanford after the Wildcats made a coaching change. For her, Stanford is a great environment that she likes because of its unique mixture of elite academics and elite athletics. There’s a push to do better in every facet of her collegiate life and she enjoys it. Widner’s made the Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll and been a two-time WCGA Scholastic All-American while studying a niche major: product design. She said it’s like mechanical engineering, but it’s more human-centered and about efficiency for the user. She knows she wants to use her degree to work with people as opposed to in the background, but she isn’t sure what that looks like exactly. Luckily, she has another year to figure that out because she made this announcement today.
I get one more year! Super excited to announce that I’m staying for a 5th year ♥️ pic.twitter.com/Cs4fPSCGzI— Chloe Widner (@Chloe_Widner) April 11, 2023
Widner’s collegiate career began with a bang. She captured Pac-12 Freshman/Newcomer of the Week honors after her first college meet in which she scored 39.325 in the AA in her debut. Her freshman season was going very well, but the Covid-19 pandemic canceled it prematurely. The ongoing effects of the pandemic hit Stanford hard in the 2021 season. The team couldn’t begin their training until December of 2020 and had to use the concourses of Stanford Stadium to do so, which meant they had to deal with tough weather conditions. Stanford competed in just five meets in 2021 and had 24 routines for just two of them. Widner said she felt like she was still learning even after her second season, but she was thankful she had a bunch of upperclassmen who could help guide her.
Widner injured both of her ankles on a bad vault landing the week before the start of the 2022 season. She made the bars and beam lineup after missing half the season, and she said she had to switch her mindset into learning how to get back. 2022 was a big year for the entire team, though. The adversity of 2021 taught the team that they could do anything, and they did the unbelievable that year. The 2022 Stanford Cardinal became the second team in the current format to advance from the play-in to the regional finals and the first from outside the top 28. She said that the team felt as if they held back in their tournament opener and decided to go all out and do their best in their regional semifinal. The moments of waiting around to see if they qualified are some of her favorite moments of her career.
Widner’s stepped into a greater leadership role this season when the five seniors from last year left. 10 of the team’s 24 routines came from freshmen, and they began the year coming to her with small questions like how to put their grips on and all. It’s been a fun experience for her having to step into that role, and she’s loved seeing how those freshmen have really come into their own and grown above needing to ask those questions so often.
On the floor, she’s gotten back into the all-around spot, but it’s been sporadic. She’s set or tied a career high in all five individual categories. She’s had seven all-around appearances this season and set her career high with a 39.625 against Oregon State on her first senior night. Beam is the event on which she might best challenge for a national title, but she has the misfortune of going on beam in the first rotation of the afternoon session. Her routine in the regional semifinal scored a 9.925 and was utterly incredible, and her career high is a 9.975 at Cal on March 10. Floor is the only event on which she’s missed meets this year. She set her career high in the opening meet at Super 16 with a 9.950, but she’s scored 9.900 one other time this year and went 9.850 in her semifinal appearance. Widner vaults a Yurchenko Full and set a career high in the semifinal with a near-perfect 9.925. Two of her three 9.900+ vaults have come this season. Widner will finish the afternoon on the event on which she has the best NQS: bars. She tied for 18th in the country entering the tournament with Maile O’Keefe and Makarri Doggette with a 9.930 NQS, the highest of any of the individual AA qualifiers and third highest of any individual competing on bars behind bars qualifiers Emily Lopez and Natalie Wojcik. That NQS came from performances in the last six meets before the tournament in which she averaged a 9.9375 and never went below 9.900 on bars, peaking with a career-high 9.975 at Washington. She scored a 9.850 in her semifinal appearance and did not score a 9.900 outside that stretch of six meets, but even if she doesn’t win a national title, she could score high enough to earn NCAA All-American honors. If there’s anything of hers I’d recommend you watch, it’s her bars routine. I love the combination of elements and her execution is quite good.
Whether you’re watching from home or in the arena, be sure to look out for Chloe Widner once LSU’s finished competing.