Francis and her coach, Valorie Kondos Field, have different ideas.
Kondos Field, known as Miss Val, has a background in dance, so her routines are a little bit different to begin with. (“I’ve never flipped. I did a cartwheel once, I think; it was horrible,” she says.)
And besides, college gymnastics is different from the precision of elite Olympic gymnastics. After the meet, Kondos Field spoke to the head judge for beam.
“She said, ‘Our sport is called artistic gymnastics,’ ” Kondos Field recalled. “'When I see a routine that is performed well with artistry, I will give them the benefit of the doubt all the time.'”
This is the most interesting beam work you'll see all year.
Gymnastics commentator speaking in video
Two things about the routine stand out: first, there’s Francis’ engagement of the audience — she looks out, and not down, and she smiles. According to Kondos Field, it’s far from the norm for most gymnasts, who go into a zone when they’re on the beam, and all they think of is the narrow slice of equipment underneath their feet.
“When they smile on beam, it literally permeates confidence through their body,” she said.
Francis, she said, is a “beautiful feline” with “unique skills” responsible for bringing thousands to each meet. After a recent routine, she sprinted across the length of the floor, ran into the bleachers and gave the audience high-fives.
Nobody in the country does this but her.
Second, there’s that tricky and unique dismount, where she does a side aerial but does it sideways instead of forward, her body revolving in the air and landing back on the beam before doing a full twist that lands her on the floor. The move is risky — to do it correctly, she has to take a brief pause in advance, which can technically result in a deduction of one-tenth of a point.
But, Kondos Field said, Francis said she would rather do something original and risk losing than something standard and watered down that could win. “The past three years, she’s been kept out of the beam finals because of it,” Kondos Field said.
If you ask Francis, who recently represented Jamaica in a world championship, it has something to do with the new fame of one of her closest friends, Sophina DeJesus, whose whip and nae-nae-filled routine was watched 28 million times and landed her on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” In the DeJesus video, Francis can be seen aping the routine, cheering her friend on.
“I’ve gotten a 10 before, but this time, with the attention that we got from Sophina, we’ve had a continuous spotlight,” Francis said. “Having seen that already, people are like, ‘Wow, not only do they have this wild hip-hop star, but they also have someone who can do this dismount no one else can do.’ We just continue to bring it.”
As for that dismount, Francis said doing the side aerial sideways started as a half-joke, half-dare from a coach because it’s extremely difficult. But once she tried it, she had a knack for it, she found. And when she first tried it under the pressure of a performance, Francis said she was the first college gymnast to ever complete that dismount. In a video of an earlier routine, a commentator can be heard saying, “Nobody in the country does this but her.”
And then, of course, just like DeJesus, you have a non-white star standing out in a pretty white sport.
Francis is from London, majors in English and wants to be a TV presenter (she hosts a series in which she interviews the Bruins). She might be up for a spot on Jamaica’s Olympics team, but there’s only one position, and she said it’s “not looking hopeful due to some political issues” she didn’t want to get into.
In the March 6 meet against Stanford and Georgia, UCLA came in third. The last home meet is this Sunday at Pauley Pavilion, against Oklahoma, the nation’s top-ranked team.
Now that you know who Francis is, you can watch her previous perfect 10's — and almost 10's — below: