The University of Georgia has long been a haven for female athletes. Like most Universities, UGA struggled with Title IX and how to best implement it. Like many schools, Georgia opted for what at the time seemed like the easiest route, which was highlight certain female sports, such as basketball and gymnastics, and do away with some men’s sports, notably gymnastics. Out of that decision arose the successful programs that are Georgia Lady Dawgs and the Gym Dogs, arguably the most dominant women’s sports program of the post Title IX era.
In 1982, the NCAA held its first women’s gymnastics championship with Utah emerging victorious. The Utes would go on to win five straight championships and establish themselves as the team to beat at the championship meet every year. In 1987, the Georgia Gym Dogs, led by Susan Yoculan, unseated the reigning champs in what was considered (at the time) one of the bigger upsets in any championship, besting Utah by a mere .35 of a point. While the Gym Dogs had been a fixture at the NCAA championship meet, making every final meet held to that point, they had never really threatened Utah, with only one top five finish (fourth in ’86) in the previous meets. In that context, no one thought of Georgia as a true powerhouse, but merely as one of the good gymnastics programs of the day.
Since then, we know the story is very different. Coach Yoculan has built the premier program in the nation. The Gym Dogs have won 8 of 21 championships since 1987. To put that in perspective, UCLA has won five, and Utah and Alabama have each won four in that time. Those four teams are the only ones to ever win the championship.
Coach Yoculan’s teams have won 16 SEC titles, more than 30 individual NCAA titles and have never missed the “super six” round at the NCAA Championships. She has been named national coach of the year five times and has four undefeated seasons to date. Her current squad is currently undefeated with three road meets and the SEC championships remaining.
Coach Yoculan was honored the other night at her last home meet, a 1.5+ point victory over Michigan, in front of a crowd of over 10000 fans at Stegman. Many say she has been a divisive figure both at the University and in the sport, but one thing cannot be denied, she has won and done so in impressive fashion. Her teams perpetually show up to win. She is known as a master motivator (in fact, if you’ve ever been to a match at Stegman, you can always hear her, despite the din and cheers of 10000 people), having a unique nack for knowing just how to get the very last bit of effort, talent and desire out of her athletes. The Univeristy of Georgia’s athletics program is part of what it is today in part due to her drive and unrelenting pursuit of perfection. In alot of ways, she showed that expecting championships every year isn’t outrageous. That rising tide has surely floated all the boats at UGA.
Coach Yoculan, you are a Damn Good Dawg. Good luck in the SEC and NCAA championships.