Sam Phillips celebrates a personal best score in the floor routine against Ohio State. | Screen capture from Instagram

Sometimes things work out perfectly, so it was fitting that an out LGBTQ gymnast for the University of Nebraska took a first, a second and a third during Tuesday’s dual meet against Ohio State on what was an event recognizing inclusion for LGBTQ athletes and allies on campus.

Sam Phillips, who now identifies as gay, set a career high score in winning the high bar event in the Cornhuskers’ win over the Buckeyes. Phillips also set a personal high score in the floor exercise and finished second. He finished third in the rings.

“From start to finish we were just electric tonight,” Phillips told Outsports Tuesday night. “We owned the stadium and were louder than even the Ohio guys. It was honestly so much fun.”

What made Phillips’ performance more special was it coming on the night when Ohio State team used the meet to recognize the groups Buckeye Inclusion and Buckeye Spectrum, the latter an organization “creating safe athletic spaces through visibility and representation of LGBTQIA+ athletes of all racial and gender identities.”

“Happy to be collaborating with Buckeye Inclusion and Buckeye Spectrum to help nurture inclusivity and an open conversation in collegiate sports 🏳️‍🌈🫶,” the Ohio State team posted on Instagram.

“Sports are for everyone, and with the power of inclusion, equity, and love, we can continue the growth and acceptance!”

Posing with the Pride Progress flags were Ohio State gymnasts Jacob Harmon, Chase Davenport, Jaden Delano and Kazuki Hayashi. It is not clear how they identify, but it’s great that they showed their support for the initiative. Harmon is listed as a secondary leader of Buckeye Spectrum.

Phillips is walking the walk while also talking the talk about representation as an out man in a sport with very few publicly out LGBTQ gymnasts.

“It’s so, so important to be a positive influence in this world that currently has lots of intolerance and ignorance producing hateful actions,” he said in an interview last year. “I am the only out male athlete at Nebraska, and it’s lonely and isolating at times. But I think back to what if younger me saw me? How secure and hopeful he would be in himself if he saw an out male athlete being so involved and having a prominent role in all athletics and athletic-related departments.

“I choose to be a lighthouse for those younger than me but also those next to me who aren’t ready to come out and live their lives on this lit-up stage. So yes, being a positive role model is so important in this way. It’s representation, and it’s a signal that it’s OK to be yourself. It’s OK to step into these spaces being as authentically you as you can be.”

Stepping back from Phillips being a role model for out athletes, we should also recognize the athleticism and artistry he showed Tuesday. His high bar routine shows his amazing muscularity and power as he handles the bar with an ease that belies its difficulty. The reaction of his teammates at the end shows how special the performance was. Ditto for his floor event, where he does a fun dance after realizing he nailed the routine.

“Ending on my personal record on the high bar was huge considering I had a tough go on parallel bars the event before,” Phillips said. “I really just had to trust my training, trust in God and trust in my teammates and trust in me. And it was magical! Sticking that dismount and knowing it basically just sealed the deal for [Nebraska to claim the] Big Ten regular season championship was an insane moment.”

It was a dominant performance from Phillips, the only gymnast to finish top 3 in three events. Doing it on and event geared toward LGBTQ inclusion in sports made it that much more special.