Utah Gymnastics: Complete Turnaround

Onodi showing the talent that landed her at Utah
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Utah coach Greg Marsden and sophomore Gabi Onodi are sitting in Marsden's office, watching a tape of a gymnast neither had seen in a while, a gymnast performing elite moves with strength, confidence and crispness.

But this was no mystery gymnast. It was a tape on Onodi, clips that were impressive enough for Marsden to offer the Hungarian a coveted scholarship on his nationally ranked team. But it contained performances that Marsden had yet to see in person.

"I told her that was the girl I recruited, and asked her where that girl was," Marsden said, recalling, in his own words, his "Come to Jesus" meeting with Onodi at the end of the 2004 season. "I told her if that wasn't the gymnast we were going to get, then maybe this wouldn't work out."

It was as close to an ultimatum as Marsden has given, but one that Onodi took to heart. The Hungarian and her Utah teammates will compete against Oregon State tonight (8 p.m. MST) in Corvallis.

After a summer filled with serious workouts in Hungary and strong fall practices, Onodi is showing everyone the talent Marsden saw on that original tape.

In Utah's first two meets, Onodi has earned two 9.75s on the vault, a 9.85 on the uneven bars and a 9.825 and a 9.45 on the floor.

"It is as big a turnaround as any that I can remember," Marsden said. "It's like she has come back a totally different gymnast."

She has, in a way. No longer the shy loner who would beg out of vault practice and offer tentative routines on other events, Onodi is now a strong gymnast who wouldn't think of slipping out of vault practice and is as talkative as the rest of the bunch afterward.

In the span of a few months, Onodi has gone from being in danger of losing her scholarship, worth about $18,000, to being a crucial member of Utah's team.

"I have a good feeling after practices this year," Onodi said. "I've worked hard to get into the lineup, especially vault, and I plan to make the all-around."

Onodi's experience is relatively common for elite gymnasts, particularly international athletes, who not only have to adjust to the weekly competitions in college, but also to a different culture, schooling system and language.

"Sometimes it can almost be too difficult for them to handle," said Utah associate head coach Megan Marsden. "It can take them six months or more to adjust because it's such an upheaval."

Onodi's slow start was more extreme than most. She arrived just before the start of the season for her freshman year, and competed exhibition-only on the beam. Last year she was a beam specialist, earning 9.85s in four meets.

Good scores, but not exactly the impact Marsden or Onodi were expecting from the veteran of European and World Championships.

"It was hard; I had to go through a lot of changes," Onodi said. "I had to figure out how things worked here. I thought I was doing my best, but I knew I wasn't doing that good because I wasn't making the lineup. It was a weird situation."

Onodi, whose English has gone from limited to good, also had to adjust to life without her father, Odon, who died after suffering a stroke in 2002, just before the World Championships. He was her biggest confidant, and while the move to Salt Lake City gave her a fresh start, Onodi felt more isolated than ever.

"We had so many conversations, father-daughter talks," she said. "Sometimes I would be so lonely, but in competitions I'd say 'Oh I'll do it for him.' I'm glad he knew I was coming here, to a good place."

Utah senior Annabeth Eberle reached out to Onodi, including her in team and social events.

"I admire anyone who comes from a different country to compete here because it is such a big step," Eberle said. "She was used to training by herself and kept to herself the first year. We weren't sure if she was going to make it. The biggest difference now is she believes in herself."

For Onodi, competing in the vault lineup is her biggest achievement. The event always has been her weakness .

At Utah, she'd try anything to get out of practicing in the vault, which is a little like a linebacker saying he'd prefer not to practice tackling.

"We're not going to let our gymnasts dink around for four years on a scholarship," Marsden said. "It got to the point where if she didn't put in the effort, we didn't know if she would keep the job."

All of that controversy is in the past, as Onodi has mastered the event, and appreciates more than ever the thanks she gets from her teammates and fans.


Tonight's gymnastics

Utah at Oregon State

8 p.m. MST, Gill Coliseum, Corvallis, Ore.

Live stats: www.UtahUtes.com

What to Look for:

Utah's Rachel Tidd, who sat out the Utah State meet with back problems, is expected to compete tonight.

Oregon State scored a 195.20 in the season opener, then posted a 192.875 in a loss to UCLA.

Elsewhere: No. 9 BYU at New Hampshire, Sat., 5 p.m.

Gabi Onodi file

She finished 12th in the all-around at the 1998 European Championships

Scored 9.8 at NCAA Championships on beam

Member of Hungarian National Team from 1995-2003