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Sunday, November 28, 2021
<p>Bridget Sloan sticks her landing after her dismount from the balance beam during Florida's win over Alabama on Jan. 28, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.</p>

Bridget Sloan sticks her landing after her dismount from the balance beam during Florida's win over Alabama on Jan. 28, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.

Leadership can be characterized in a number of ways.

Its styles and techniques are as diverse as the people who employ them. Bold and brash or reticent and resilient, most leaders find their niche somewhere along that continuum.

Florida gymnastics senior Bridget Sloan is content with balancing the two.

The youngest member of the U.S. Olympic silver-medal gymnastics team in 2008 and a three-time NCAA champion, the affable native of Pittsboro, Indiana, epitomizes the notion of a team-first athlete.

She’s vocal — yet not overbearing — and is loved by teammates for her joking personality in practice.

She’s also approachable, which helps her impart knowledge to some of Florida’s younger gymnasts.

"In the gym, they’re very good supporters," freshman beam specialist Peyton Ernst said of Sloan and sophomore Alex McMurtry. "They come up and they can help us with anything if we need help. It’s very nice to have them in the gym with us."

But when the stadium lights flicker on Friday nights, she lets her game do the talking.

Only the seventh collegiate gymnast to ever win all four events during her career, Sloan is the third-winningest athlete in Florida gymnastics history, tied with Kristen Guise for the distinction.

At the heart of it, Sloan is a competitor — an athlete who excels in the spotlight and gets a kick out of it to boot.

And this past Friday, in a losing effort against rival Georgia, she proved her mettle once more.

After battling an illness throughout the week, she travelled with the team to retain her place as the Gators’ top all-around competitor.

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Performing fifth in UF’s floor unit, Sloan suffered an upper-thigh cramp on her final tumbling pass, sending her stumbling across the mat and putting the rest of her meet in jeopardy.

However, as leaders often do, she persevered, insisting to coach Jenny Rowland that she remain in the final beam lineup.

"She warmed up beam, the 30-second touch, and I told her (that) she didn’t look the same in her eyes," Rowland said.

"I said ‘Listen, honey, we don’t need (a) savior tonight. You know, we’ve got somebody else to replace you.’ She goes ‘No ... I can do it. I can do it.’ What are you gonna do other than trust your own athletes?"

That trust paid dividends, as Sloan gutted out her 78th career event title with a 9.875-point showing as Florida’s anchor.

From a statistical standpoint, Friday’s performance solidified her claim as the nation’s top gymnast. On top of her win on the beam, she missed clinching her fifth-consecutive all-around title of the year by 0.225 points, ground easily regained with the omission of her misstep on the floor.

What the scoresheet didn’t mention, though, is how Sloan refused to bail on her teammates when they needed her most.

If it wasn’t evident prior, Friday night made this much clear: Sloan is the heart and soul of the Florida gymnastics program.

"Bridget really has embraced her leadership role this year," Rowland said.

"I trusted her, I know the team trusted her ability, and if she says that she’s able to do it, then I know she’s gonna get up there and do what she’s capable of."

Contact Alejandro López at alopez@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @ajlb95.

Bridget Sloan sticks her landing after her dismount from the balance beam during Florida's win over Alabama on Jan. 28, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.

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