‘Very surprised, actually:’ Inside BYU gymnast’s viral Barbie-themed floor exercise #surprised #BYU #gymnasts #viral #Barbiethemed #floor #exercise

BYU’s Rebekah Bean Ripley performs on the floor at the fourth annual Rio Tinto Best of Utah Meet at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

PROVO — Rebekah Ripley wasn’t thinking of going viral, or even of nailing a perfect 10. She just wanted to make it through her first routine in nearly three years.

The BYU senior was performing her first competitive floor exercise since being sidelined with two ACL injuries and a third knee injury that all required surgery. So when she stepped up to the floor at the inaugural Super 16 gymnastics meet on Jan. 7 in Las Vegas, going viral was one of the furthest things from her mind.

But that’s exactly what she did with her Barbie doll-themed exercise that set the internet — ahem, that’s #gymternet — ablaze.

“I was very surprised, actually,” Ripley told KSL.com this week after practice. “My coaches and teammates joked that this routine would go viral, but I didn’t necessarily think that would happen after the very first meet.

“That first competition, I was so nervous; I hadn’t competed on floor since 2019 — it’s been years. Luckily, I was on my feet, but my tumbling passes weren’t as good as they were in practice, and everything was just a little bit off. But I was pleasantly surprised that so many people liked it.

She paused briefly, before adding: “Now I just want people to watch it when I really hit it. Then you can share it.”

The exercise was about more than just a spunky Barbie doll look-alike performing high-level gymnastics, to which Ripley — a 5-foot-2, blonde-haired, blue-eyed senior from St. George with a bubbly personality — admits she has been compared.

It was just a fun idea, made more fun because of the routine-ending bounce off her feet while landing in a full straddle while bouncing off the mat, a move she’s done since she was a preteen gymnastics standout who won the All-Around Level 9 at Western Nationals well before committing to BYU.

Floor exercises weren’t even her first love, though. That was always the vault, the apparatus on which she scored a 9.825 in her first collegiate attempt in 2019. That was before she tore her ACL, and in coming back just under a year later, she tore it again.

A third injury — a slightly more mild meniscus tear that was no less of a setback — cost her most of a third season. So when she had to come back a third time wearing the clunky DonJoy orthopedic knee brace that also went viral in a video that ran everywhere from KSL.com to ESPN to People magazine, it was a small price to pay.

Ripley complemented the BYU athletic training and medical staff for helping her recover, but the strain of three consecutive injuries took its toll, she admits — as anyone would imagine.

“This is the first time I have been in a floor lineup at the beginning of the season and feeling really confident about it,” she said. “It’s been great, but I’ve missed it.”

The routine also features strong gymnastics, posting a team-best 9.850 at last week’s Best of Utah gymnastics meet against Utah, Utah State and Southern Utah. From the running front tuck into a double tuck on the first pass to the last pass that features a roundoff back handspring double-pike, Ripley’s coaches don’t feel a need to add a third pass because of the difficulty of the first two.

At least, not yet.

“Our floor team is just so much fun to watch, and you can tell they are gaining that confidence,” BYU coach Guard Young said. “I would love to see that same confidence translate over to the balance beam, so that is going to be our focus this week as we prepare for our first home meet.”

If it’s working well, why mess with it? Picking the right audio track and voicing the appropriate expressions are also a part of the overall scoring, too.

“For Barbie, it was just trying to make myself look like a Barbie,” said Ripley, who opens the routine with a flurry of plastic-like robotics set to the tune of the 1997 classic by Aqua, “and make her come to life.”

But there is one thing Ripley would like to add to the floor routine, and it’s not a third pass: She wants to perform it in front of a home court. The Cougars opened the season with back-to-back road meets in Las Vegas and West Valley before Friday’s home opener against Boise State in the Marriott Center.

Starting times for the annual “daddy-daughter date night” that will feature fathers of each gymnast in attendance is set for 7 p.m. MST in the Marriott Center.

“I’m so excited,” Ripley said of the home environment. “I love performing, and it’s been amazing to do that in front of such big crowds. But I’m really excited to do it in front of BYU fans, where the majority of people there will be cheering for us. It’s going to be really fun.”

And maybe — just maybe — it will go viral (again).

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A proud graduate of Syracuse University, Sean Walker has covered BYU for KSL.com since 2015, while also mixing in prep sports, education, and anything else his editors assign him to do.

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