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Brie Clark’s unexpected path to success

Toby Corriston
Brie Clark’s journey to gymnastics has been nothing short of exceptional, and her phenomenal energy across all events has catapulted her to new heights of success in NCAA competition.

In a sport where starting at age eight is considered behind schedule, gymnast Brie Clark has defied the odds over and over again. The Daphne, Alabama, native was relatively late to gymnastics, starting at age 10, with a simple suggestion from her mother to take a recreational class.

As a multisport athlete in her early years, Clark faced a pivotal decision between basketball and gymnastics. She ultimately chose the latter, which led her to train at a gym in Mobile, Alabama, under Vladimir Novikov, a 1988 Olympic gold medalist, before making her debut at the collegiate level.

Clark’s college career began out west at Utah State in 2022 under coaches Amy Smith and Erik Lewis. Her journey took an unexpected twist in the spring of that year when both Smith and McElroy departed for Clemson following the season. This coaching change prompted Clark and some of her teammates to enter the transfer portal, and Clemson was not even initially on their radar.

“None of us ever really thought that we would see each other again,” she said in an interview with The Tiger. “We didn’t think Clemson was even an option because they didn’t have a team, and they weren’t going to start for a year.”

Smith, however, was keeping tabs on her past gymnasts in the transfer portal. She reached out to Clark about an open spot on her new squad, which opened Clark’s mind to the possibility of joining the team.

To her surprise, during the official visit, Clark found that many of her past teammates were also considering Clemson.

That visit is where the foundation of the current team began to take shape, as Clark reminisced that the teammates who signed on during the visit marked the beginning of people buying into the team.

“It was really special for us to commit together on that visit,” she said. “We all saw the vision that Amy and Eric were trying to build, so it’s cool to be a part of something like that.”

The journey to Clemson’s first meet presented challenges, including finding a spot to practice while the team’s own facility was being built. Despite the initial struggles, there was an advantage to having a year in which they didn’t have to worry about competing.

Clark even said that having a year off from competition while still training at an elite level presented a unique advantage for the team:

“It was kind of cool because we had that time to work on the little details that we wouldn’t have been able to focus on if we were in season last year,” she said.

“College is just very fast-paced in preseason. So for us to be able to have that year to work on the little details, fine-tune different things and work on new skills was something that was unique and was very helpful.”

When the inaugural season began last month — 939 days after the June 2021 announcement of the team’s inception — Clark and her teammates experienced overwhelming support from fans. Their new home, Littlejohn Coliseum, hosted a sellout crowd in their second and third meets of the season, an energy that Clark calls a “family-supportive atmosphere.”

“It’s amazing. Coming from a different school that didn’t have that type of support, 8,000 (fans) is crazy.”

Not only has the fan support been clear, but the team itself has cemented a strong bond.

“Everybody’s bought in,” Clark added. “Everybody wants to win. And everybody wants to, at the end of the day, do what they need to do and help teammates as well.”

Clark competes in floor and beam for Clemson and is hoping to reintroduce vault in the future. She shared her pre-meet routine for balancing her nerves and excitement, a tradition that involves prayer and reflection before hitting the floor.

Before each routine, Clark reaffirms herself by saying, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” while touching all ten fingers for each word. This ritual serves as her way of settling down and focusing before her routine begins.

Clark’s faith has been a source of strength throughout her career, especially during her freshman year when she faced mental health struggles leading to a panic disorder diagnosis. She credits her faith and support system for helping her to overcome these challenges and complete a successful freshman season at Utah State.

Clark has high expectations for the upcoming season, aiming to secure another All-American title and clinch the ACC floor championship. To do this, she looks to emulate her role model, Simone Biles. Clark admires not only Biles’ athletic ability but also her prioritization of her mental health over athletics.

Drawing parallels on the floor to Biles, Clark hinted at the possibility of introducing the challenging “Biles” move to the college level — a feat very few attempt, not just in NCAA gymnastics but worldwide.

The Biles is a double layout with a half twist, meaning when Clark performs the move, she is flipping fully through the air twice before twisting at the end for a completely blind landing.

“She’s an absolute showstopper, just pure joy,” Smith said when describing Clark.

Clark also had a message for the younger generation aspiring to join gymnastics.

“It’s never too late to start,” she said. “And if you commence later on, don’t impose limits on yourself. If you aspire to pursue college gymnastics, even if you start at, say, 12, you absolutely can. So, don’t lose faith in yourself. Avoid comparing your journey to others because some may have started at three, but it’s your unique story. Stay the course.”

Although she had to sit out the Tigers’ last meet against NC State, Clark will be back in action on the road over the next two weeks, first heading to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers on Feb. 9 before heading to Raleigh, North Carolina, for a rematch against the Wolfpack on Feb. 17.

The team returns to Littlejohn Coliseum on Friday, Feb. 23, against the North Carolina Tar Heels.

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Toby Corriston, Asst. Photo Editor
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