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Ever since she became serious about her gymnastics, Utah freshman Nansy Damianova prided herself on mastering challenging, highly valued skills.
She was so successful at them that they became a trademark of sorts, as she worked her way up through Canada's elite levels all the way to the 2008 Olympics.
But now, as a freshman for the Utes, Damianova is having to let go of that identity a bit. Doing so, she is discovering, is as hard and as tricky as some of the skills she has learned.
"I know in college, you have to be perfect," she said. "But I do like to do the bigger skills, for sure. It's a transition from international to college."
If there's any gymnast who handles difficult routines and is consistent, as the college gymnastics format requires, it's going to be someone such as Damianova.
Raised by a mother who competed for Bulgaria's national rowing team and a father who competed for Bulgaria in tae kwon do, Damianova carried on her family's athletic prowess in gymnastics as a youngster and now for the Utes.
She is penciled in to compete on everything but the balance beam when the Utes host No. 2 Stanford Friday. Even as she has continues to adjust, she is making an impact for the Utes, scoring 9.75 or higher on a regular basis.
"It's different being on a team, but I like it," she said. "I can't do my biggest skills here, but I'm working on being consistent, for now."
Damianova established herself as one of Canada's best after the family immigrated to the country. In 2006, while still eligible as a junior in high school, she competed at the Canadian Championships and took first on the bars and vault and second on floor and third on beam and in the all-around.
A figure on Canada's national team, Damianova caught the eye of Utah coach Greg Marsden, who keeps tabs on international competitions to find possible recruits.
Marsden got a firm no when he inquired about Damianova's interest in competing at the college level from Damianova's coach.
"Her coach told me he didn't want me to distract her and she needed to focus on her international career," he said. "I wrote back and said, 'Thanks, I hope you will get back in touch if you want to explore it further.' Two years went by and I heard nothing, and I had forgotten all about it until all of a sudden, I got an e-mail from the coach."
The Utes' wait paid off, as Damianova, who represented Canada in the Beijing Olympics, was ready to see for herself what college gymnastics was all about in the States.
She's learning it is similar to her past experiences, but with an emphasis on consistency that comes with the pressure of competing on a team in front of thousands.
"[The] first meet, I was nervous because you want to win for yourself at the international level. Here, you have teammates, and you don't want to mess up your team," she said. "But that is the fun part, too."
Damianova is competing on everything but the balance beam and is drawing consistently high scores.
Marsden believes she still has plenty of potential to tap, although he is in no rush to push her. He is just glad, after years of waiting, she is finally in Utah.
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A closer look
Class • Freshman
Height • 5-foot-1
From • Montreal
Note • Once a queen of big skills, now Damianova is dominating with consistency:
Vault Bars Floor
UCLA 9.85 9.725 9.75
Ga. 9.825 9.75 9.8
Neb. 9.85 9.75 9.85