Connor McCool Balances Role as a Collegiate Gymnast, Member of the Gymternet

Connor McCool is undoubtedly a big name in NCAA men’s gymnastics. As well as captaining the fourth-ranked Illini, the four-time All-American is one of the best collegiate floor workers in the country and qualified to the 2022 U.S. elite national championships as a floor and vault specialist.

Even if you’re strictly a fan of elite or women’s gymnastics, odds are that if you’ve spent any quantity of time on gymnastics Twitter, you still probably know who McCool is—or at least as his handle, @GymFan5.

McCool, a Missouri native, joined Twitter in high school after developing an interest in women’s gymnastics, thanks in part to a famous clubmate.

“Sarah Finnegan finished her high school J.O. career at my gym, and I started following her just as she went to LSU. After that, I got really into it and I found the gymternet.” 

Once in college, he was initially reluctant to reveal his online identity to both gym fans and fellow gymnasts alike, but he soon decided anonymity wasn’t worth the effort. 

“Early into my first season, I think I was responding to one of Mia Takekawa’s beam routines and I was sitting next to some of the girls on the women’s team,” McCool recalled. “They were like, ‘Are you tweeting?’ After that, I just said, ‘I don’t really care anymore.’”

A major upshot of that decision is that it allowed him to openly support his school.

“I wanted to be an advocate for Illinois women’s gym because they’re not a huge team with a lot of super fans. Now it’s a lot easier for me to just kind of hype them up and share about them.” 

Unsurprisingly, he’s also seen his own profile grow as well.

“I have gotten a lot more followers, but it’s been a steady growth over time. It definitely got a boost once I started posting videos of updates of training and stuff,” McCool said. “Those do better than just my normal opinions.”

His social media offers gym fans a rare glimpse into the tedious and often grueling process required to get a skill competition ready, and McCool is surprisingly willing to open his training footage to public scrutiny.

“Most of it is very uplifting and just cool. Sometimes people will give me feedback, and I’m totally willing to hear it.”

In addition to posting gym clips and the occasional meme, McCool also hopes to provide insights and context that the average fan might not recognize.

“A lot of times people comment, ‘Why isn’t this person in lineup? They did so good last year!’ or, ‘They did really well in exhibition!’ without really knowing what’s going on behind the scenes,” said McCool. “Coaches don’t put up their favorites. They want to have the highest score possible, and that sometimes gets lost online.”

When in fan mode, however, he keeps his feedback as constructive as possible.

“I try really hard not to put down athletes and other teams. If I see overscoring or something, I’ll call it out,” McCool said. However, he admits there are exceptions.

“I try to stay low, but sometimes I just see an opportunity, and it’s just funny.”

The Illini men’s gymnastics team is also using social media to its advantage: Its TikTok boasts nearly 57,000 followers and has garnered over two million likes, which McCool hopes will translate to more fans for the sport as a whole.

“For men’s gymnastics, any press is good press,” he said. “Signal-boosting videos and following your favorite athletes are great, and if you can, tune into a meet or go into one in person.”

If you can’t make it to the upcoming Winter Cup to see McCool compete in person, you can catch him on the call when the Illinois women host Michigan State on February 27, as well as, of course, online.

“It’s really fun to be an athlete in my own right and then just be able to enjoy the community and be a fan on on Twitter.”

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Article by Claire Billman 

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