Olivia Karas sits on the edge of the podium.

For Olivia Karas, Commentary Is About Education

Olivia Karas’ journey to commentary began as a game in the gym. Karas says that during morning practice, “I would grab my water bottle and put [it] in front of my teammates’ faces and pretend I was interviewing them.” Years later, the six-time All-American and two-time Big Ten individual champion with the Michigan Wolverines realized she was not ready to say goodbye to gymnastics after she graduated in 2019. Instead, she thought back to her knack for commentary and chose to pursue that path.

“I ended up literally flying into Dean Linke’s DMs on Twitter saying ‘hey, remember me? I would love to get into the sports commentary world,’” Karas explained. “And here we are.” Karas is now in her fifth year as a women’s gymnastics analyst for the Big Ten Network, commentating at regular-season BTN meets as well as Big Fives and Big Tens. This has allowed her to stay connected to a sport she spent almost her entire life immersed in. As many retired gymnasts say, adjusting to life after gymnastics is never easy. Karas found that commentary brought her closest to the feeling of competing again, or, as she puts it, that feeling of being “high on life.”

Even though she enjoys this role, the transition has not been without its difficulties. Despite her numerous accomplishments, Karas sometimes grapples with imposter syndrome when behind the mic. Many NCAA gymnastics analysts boast Olympic medals or national championships to their names. For Karas, having graduated from a school that had not yet won a national championship when she began this new chapter, she found herself in intimidating company. To overcome these feelings, she reminds herself that her 18-year career as gymnast and the numerous accolades she earned as a Wolverine give her the credit to be an analyst.

She also knows that she brings a lot of knowledge to the table. Something Karas prides herself on is her ability to provide as much detail as possible about teams and their gymnastics. Before every meet, she goes back and watches both teams’ competitions from the previous week, so she can understand where each team is in its season. She also relies on her ability to go in-depth about Big Ten gymnastics programs and to discuss gymnasts as full humans, as opposed to just as athletes.

Of course, there is no Big Ten program that Karas knows better than Michigan. As an alumna, Karas knows she will come under increased scrutiny every time she calls a Michigan meet. Candidly, she shared, “It’s so hard. I would so much rather not commentate a Michigan meet because I have so much emotional attachment to it.” 

Still, Karas believes that she is improving with every Michigan meet. “I think it was harder in the Abby Heiskell and Natalie Wojcik years. They were my babies, I was their senior,” she said. This season, however, Heiskell and Wojcik have graduated. Now, Karas has received praise from coaches about her ability to be diplomatic and professional when she calls Michigan meets, most notably following a particularly hard loss to Michigan State during alumni weekend. 

Though it is often a balancing act, some strengths come from Karas’ familiarity with the Michigan program. “I know Bev, Maile, and Scott so well that I know exactly what they’re saying to their athletes and I can tell that story,” she explained. With her focus on telling the stories of programs and gymnasts on a human level, this is a big advantage.


Ultimately, Karas handles the challenge of a Michigan meet by expanding her perspective. “It’s hard because you want to root for your team, but you have to root for the conference as well,” she said. Taking a wider look at her experience over these past five years, it’s difficult for her to pick a single favorite commentary moment, but her love for the Big Ten comes through with each meet she calls. She has fond memories of the 2023 Big Tens, specifically because it was impossible to call who was going to win. Moving forward, Karas wants to use her role as an analyst, especially in exciting moments, to bring more awareness to Big Ten gymnastics and to hold onto that “something special” she sees in the Big Ten.

As a former gymnast turned commentator, Karas is all too aware of pressure from gymnastics fans and the gymternet to be perfect. She tries to avoid online discussions, but she takes her role as a voice in the gymnastics world very seriously. In particular, Karas loves to break down deduction discrepancies and execution technicalities. Her new perspective as a commentator has aided this. “As an athlete, I would do things on beam and think that it was good, but it really wasn’t,” she said. “I’m realizing that there is so much knowledge on the sport from an execution/judging perspective, and it’s much easier to recognize having transferred to commentary.” 

Karas, a self-described gym nerd, hopes her unique perspective will help make gymnastics more enjoyable for casual viewers. For her, the principal job of an analyst is “providing education, so the sport is more accessible for people.” Ultimately, the goal is to give viewers the knowledge they need to go from viewers to fans.

For those of us who are already hooked on gymnastics, Karas is excited to tell the story of the upcoming Big Ten championships. “I think this is going to be one of the most exciting Big Ten championships in a while,” she said. She knows the audience wants to hear more from the gymnasts competing, and she is eager to “get the athletes’ voices out there,” and tell behind-the-scenes stories.

Competing as an NCAA gymnast will always have a part of Karas’ heart. Sometimes, she rewatches Michigan qualifying to nationals in 2019, and she knows she’ll always miss gymnastics. But commentary has provided her with new opportunities. Karas explained that she’s particularly grateful to “tell the stories I wished commentators used to tell about our team.” 

And her advice for current gymnasts? “There are going to be days at this point in the mid-season slump where you want nothing to do with doing a three-in-a-row bar assignment or a floor routine on hard ground, but one day you’ll be five years out and wishing you could do one more really crappy bars assignment,” said Karas. “Enjoy it, even when you don’t want to, do the difficult bar assignment because one day you won’t be able to do that anymore.”

Although Karas can’t do a tough bars assignment anymore, she can tell the stories of the athletes and shine a light on Big Ten gymnastics. Since the start of her commentary career, this has been her goal, and she hopes to hold on to it in the years to come.

READ THIS NEXT: Gymnastics Is a Family Affair for LSU’s Sierra Ballard

Article by Naomi Stephenson


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.