Sam Rubin

Less than two months into her collegiate career, Yale gymnast Lindsay Chia ’22 has already become a force to be reckoned with. A mainstay in the uneven bars lineup, the rookie filled the large shoes bars stalwart Meg Ryan ’18 left behind. And on her signature apparatus, the balance beam, Chia is already the eighth-highest scorer in school history following her a score of 9.850 in her debut meet.

However, Chia’s NCAA career experienced a rocky start. Shortly before Yale gymnastics’ first meet of the season, Chia suffered a minor ankle injury which derailed her initial hopes of competing for the Bulldogs on all four events. She started the season out on just one event, the uneven bars, but patient recovery has since allowed her to return to the beam as well.

“Since the first day of practice in September, Lindsay has had an amazing work ethic,” captain Kiarra Alleyne ’19 said. “She is always pushing herself to be better, and I can tell that as the season progresses, she not only cares more and more about her performance, but also the team’s performance, which is a mindset that you grow into during college gymnastics. Lindsay always has a positive attitude, in and out of the gym, and the team wouldn’t be the same without her.”

Chia, a native of Windsor, Ontario, doesn’t plan to stop at just bars and beam; she hopes to regain her capabilities on floor and vault to return to the all-around once more, harkening back to her career as an elite gymnast in Canada. In those days, she frequently competed alongside Canadian Olympians and World Championship team members. While she never quite made it to that level, Chia did enjoy a long and successful career in elite competition from 2013 to 2018.

As an elite, Chia was a fixture in Canada’s High Performance program, a pipeline for selection into the national team, as she competed within all three levels of the program — novice, junior and senior. Chia debuted on the High Performance scene in 2013, her last year of eligibility as a novice athlete, starting out near the bottom of the field. Over the next few years, Chia quickly climbed the ranks, and before her retirement from elite, she had qualified to Canadian Nationals five years in a row and consistently placed in the top 10 at senior competitions. In her last appearance at Nationals, Chia finished ninth in the all-around and fifth on the uneven bars.

“[Chia] is coming from the elite gymnastics world, like myself, and it is a shift into a completely different gear,” assistant coach Jason Collins said. “A gear that requires time to acclimate and together we are learning that how to do that. It is a privilege that I get to coach her every day. She is an athlete of the finest caliber both in gymnastics and of mind.”

In her debut season at Yale, Chia has contributed a dependable score on the uneven bars at every meet so far, averaging 9.596 for her efforts. Her routine is jam-packed with difficult elements and combinations, which she performs expertly with crisp form and body alignment throughout. Chia has been essentially competing the same routine for the past several years and demonstrates her mastery in the routine with skills such as her straddled jaeger — a release from the high bar into a front somersault in straddle position before re-grasp. A common execution flaw in the jaeger skill is a loss of body form, often resulting in bent knees or flexed feet. Chia, however, maintains perfectly straight legs and pointed toes throughout the duration of the release, making her straddle jaeger truly a pleasure to watch.

The rest of Chia’s routine is comprised of a series of equally impressive skills, including a bail transition to the low bar and a recently-added front giant work that features backward straight-body swings in reverse grip. However, the most unique and memorable part of Chia’s exercise on the uneven bars is her dismount. Chia performs the toe-on front tuck with a half twist, an element she has cultivated since 2016. Dismounts of this type were popular in elite gymnastics in the 1980s, but have since waned in popularity. The diversity in dismounts has also waned since then, so it is refreshing to see Chia compete this rare skill.

In addition to her talent on the uneven bars, Chia has also made a splash in the Yale beam lineup. Due to her ankle issues, the rookie only competed beam as a Bulldog for the first time two weekends ago at George Washington, where she earned her spot in the Yale record books by becoming the eighth-highest scorer on beam in team history. Speaking about her debut on the event, Chia said beam is the event on which she feels the most confident, and that returning to the beam after her injury was “a bit like being home again.”

Against Brown at home this past weekend, Chia showed her prowess on the event yet again and exuded the confidence of a veteran competitor. Similar to her bars, a major strength of Chia’s beam routines is the cleanliness of her execution. She has almost no built-in form deductions — her legs pencil-straight in every element, her body alignment not a hair off. Chia’s back handspring to layout step-out connection is a highlight of her exercise. She propels her body backward during the second skill, but waits ever-so-slightly to split her legs in anticipation of the landing, making the skill look extra lofty.

While little changed from elite to NCAA in terms of her routines, Chia found that the collegiate gymnastics atmosphere is radically different from what she was used to. Chia attended high school even while training as an elite gymnast, unlike many who opt for home-school or virtual school programs instead to focus on training full time. Even then, NCAA limitations on the hours of practice per week were an adjustment for her.

“Last semester I felt like we were barely training, coming from elite where I trained 25[-plus] hours a week, but now it seems very balanced with our schoolwork,” Chia said. “The whole team aspect, however, is more fun and exciting than I had expected. [For the rest of the season,] I’m most looking forward to our big meets like Ivy Classic and ECACs since those will be our toughest competitions and we will be defending our titles.”

Bulldog gymnastics travels to Penn for the Ivy Classic this Sunday, where Chia will once again defy gravity with her bold, confident swing on the uneven bars and float across the four-inch-wide balance beam as if it were the floor.

Raymond Gao | raymond.gao@yale.edu