Nastia Liukin Cup Champion Elle Mueller Finds Success in Letting Go

As Elle Mueller waited in line with her fellow qualifiers to enter the Kentucky International Convention Center for the beginning of the Nastia Liukin Cup, she reminded herself to let go of everything she couldn’t control. The judges’ scores and the other competitors’ performances were beyond her reach, but there were still things within her power. She could release some of her expectations and stay in the moment, focusing on one routine at the time, one skill at the time. 

Mueller’s nerves got tested right away. She began her afternoon on beam, an event that she acknowledged could easily be “shaky.” Her routine was solid as a rock. The week prior to the Cup, she had posted a career high of 9.850 on beam and her confidence carried over to Louisville. She started off with a slightly off-balance front somersault, but her skills grew stronger and stronger as the routine progressed. She highlighted it with a stuck double-twist dismount.

Sitting in fifth place after the first rotation but still feeling “hopeful,” she moved to floor, where she showed off a polished and elegantly-choreographed routine. She landed both of her tumbling passes—a full-twisting double back and a front layout to Rudi—confidently, for a career high of 9.825. At the halfway point, Mueller was sitting in second, only 0.025 behind Mackenzie Estep, and she was feeling “very excited.”

“I knew there was nothing to lose so I might as well have some fun,” she explained.

In the third rotation, as the competition grew serious and several gymnasts struggled to control their nerves, Mueller stuck her Yurchenko one and a half cold. She scored a 9.875, tying with Jahzara Swaby-Ranger for the highest score of the competition on vault. She was ecstatic with her performance. “After vault I couldn’t even process what just happened,” she said. “I had to take a couple minutes and just remember that it isn’t over until it’s over—after bars.”

Going into the final rotation, Mueller was fully aware of the standings. She knew she was leading by less than two tenths over Ella Murphy, who was having a spectacular day of her own, as well as Estep and Avery Neff, the defending champion who had just delivered a near-perfect routine on floor.

Despite the emotions running high, Mueller kept her composure on bars. She performed a difficult Chow to Pak salto, finishing with a stuck double layout. Her score of 9.800 was the highest score of the competition on bars and it easily sealed her victory over Neff and Murphy. “I didn’t want to try to do more or less than what I know I could do—just allowing myself to have wiggle room if needed so that I could let go and do my best gymnastics,” she explained. “It was a very important last event and [I] had a goal of hitting a 9.800 and sticking my dismount, and I did both. I’m just very proud of myself for believing in me.”

Winning the Nastia Liukin Cup on her first attempt, and in her senior year of high school, was an “amazing” feeling for Mueller. “In the back of my mind it was definitely a goal to win, but with the amount of amazing gymnasts there I knew it was going to be a showdown,” she said. “There are only a certain number of girls that even make it here and to win it has made it that much sweeter.”

Mueller wasn’t new to high-pressure situations or to individual success. An elite gymnast for several years, she was a 2022 U.S. national team member and represented Team USA internationally three times: at the Jesolo Trophy in Italy and the Pan American Championships in Brazil, both in 2022, as well as at the DTB Pokal Mixed Cup in Germany in 2023. 

With two impressive elite seasons under her belt, Mueller had her eyes set on having a great U.S. championships last year, in hopes of being in contention for a spot on the world championship team. An hour before the meet, however, she rolled her ankle and had to withdraw from the competition. “Injuries are always so hard but that one had a little extra sting,” she said. [A]fter trying for so long, to have everything kind of taken out from under you can be a very humbling experience.”

After recovering from her injury, Mueller decided not to return to elite competition and to drop back to level 10. It wasn’t an easy decision but it felt right for her “body, health, happiness, and to find joy.”

It was also a good opportunity to polish her best skills and make them competition-ready in view of the beginning of her college career next season. Mueller, a four-star recruit, has signed with Oklahoma, the No. 1 school in the country, and can’t wait to be a Sooner. 

“I chose Oklahoma because my heart just belonged there,” she explained. “I really tried to keep an open mind when learning about other colleges but I just couldn’t find myself saying no to Oklahoma. The spirit, culture, and overall school is impeccable and exactly what I was looking for.” Committing to Oklahoma on her visit with 2025 recruit Kelsey Slade was a “pinch moment” and one of Mueller’s fondest memories.

As the Nastia Liukin Cup champion prepares to take one final bow at L10 nationals next month before moving to Norman, she hopes to have a memorable time on and off the competition floor. And most importantly, she wants to take it all in and have fun; she’s aware that these moments won’t last forever. “I want to make memories that I will be happy to have,” she said, “and leave on a good note going into the amazing world of college gymnastics.”  

READ THIS NEXT: Elle Mueller and Ella Kate Parker Crowned Nastia Liukin Cup Champions

Article by Talitha Ilacqua

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