How Shallon Olsen juggled Alabama gymnastics while preparing for her second Olympics

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

The second rotation had come to an end, and the Alabama gymnastics team wasn’t performing how it wanted in the NCAA national championship semifinals.

The Crimson Tide had just completed the uneven parallel bars and sat fourth halfway through the meet.

Then, an unexpected voice arose: Junior Shallon Olsen.

She pulled the team together and made the message clear: They needed to step up. They were competing like they were scared. They came there to win a national championship.

It was uncharacteristic for an athlete who Alabama coach Dana Duckworth said was extremely quiet when she arrived in Tuscaloosa and who teammate Sania Mitchell said has often led more by example.

But Olsen isn’t the same gymnast she once was when she arrived. A native of Vancouver, British Columbia, Olsen has evolved since she first competed for Team Canada in 2016 as a 16-year-old in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Now, she’s about to participate in the Tokyo Olympics, and Olsen has learned how to better manage her time and exercise discipline.

2019 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS:Shallon Olsen finishes fourth on vault

SOFTBALL:How Olympian Haylie McCleney went from fiery freshman to leader for Alabama, Team USA

That moment where she put a more developed and confident voice on display during the semifinals is just one example of how Olsen, who earned All-SEC honors this year, has grown.

“That kind of shocked all of us,” Mitchell said of the fourth Olympic gymnast in program history. “But at the same time, it didn’t really shock me because I’ve seen how she was before when she came in, and I see how she is now. She has done a lot of maturing mentally and physically.”

Olsen didn’t lack talent, considering she was an Olympian and a member of the Canadian national team since 2010. When Duckworth first saw Olsen as a high school junior, she realized her versatility.

“She can flip, she can twist,” Duckworth said. “I say all the time she’s like a cat. She can fall out of the air and find her feet.”

Gymnastics served as Olsen’s stage for success, but sometimes that came at the expense of something such as school. That’s often scheduled around gymnastics for those who compete in Elite programs from a young age, training anywhere from 25-40 hours each week.

4/16/21 WGY NCAA's Day 1
Alabama gymnast Shallon Olsen
Photo by Robert Sutton

“I did not know how she was going to handle the academic part of college,” Duckworth said. “She had to work really hard in home schooling prior to getting into Alabama to make sure she had all of her high school requirements met because her focus had always been gymnastics. I’ve seen this personal transformation in being able to learn how to manage her time.”

Look no further than Olsen making the SEC Academic Honor Roll each year.

“That’s huge for her,” Duckworth said. “I’m as proud of that as I am for her accolades in the gym.”

However, this past spring, Olsen also added pursuing another Olympics.

To maintain her status as a candidate for the Canadian team, she participated in virtual competitions on video. She had to warm up and then compete in all four events, wearing her Team Canada leotard in the Alabama gym.

Throughout the season, she had to juggle two different routines, one for college with about 10 skills and another for the Canadian team with about 16.

“Being at Alabama and also trying to go to the Olympics, I think handling both has helped shape her into a better person,” Mitchell said. “Not just a better athlete but just a better person overall. As one of her closest friends, I’m very proud of her.”

Contact Alabama reporter Nick Kelly: Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly