'Queen' Ford displays some royal talent

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She had experienced only a few weeks worth of practices with the University of Utah's gymnastics team when someone called her a "queen" during a workout.

There it was, the nickname that just wouldn't go away.

No matter where she is, Utah sophomore Nicolle Ford seems to earn the nickname, and she doesn't mind it either.

"I guess I tend to be kind of a queen with my attitude," she said.

She likes to preside over an audience, too.

"I'm not really much of the practice type," she said. ''I like

the attention of a big crowd. The more people watching me, the better."

Big attitude and a demand for attention. Those qualities can be a bit annoying, but you couldn't ask for more in a gymnast, and they make Ford one of the best in the country.

Ford is one of Utah's "Big Four." She competes in the all-around with Rachel Tidd, Ashley Postell and Annabeth Eberle.

"I love the kid, she is my kind of gymnast," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "She is beautiful to watch. A lot of times, she doesn't believe how good she is."

That is because of her demanding attitude. She got called a queen the first time when she asked one of her club coaches to move a mat, "one too many times."

She is ranked No. 11 in the nation in the all-around, seventh on the uneven bars and 10th on the balance beam, yet cringes when she thinks about her meets, remembering where she goofed.

Against UCLA, she was low on her vault and bars, against Oregon State she missed her vault and against Michigan she was unhappy with her beam and floor routines. Only the win over Utah State, which she won the all-around with a 39.55, gets a shrug of mild approval.

"Team-wise, I think we've done an excellent job," she said. "We have the talent to be No. 1, not just because of any scoring conflicts or anything, we deserve to be there. But for me, I've yet to have a meet where everything goes smoothly."

Harsh criticism for someone who is ranked in the top 12 on three events, but Ford's base of perspective comes from last year, when she was a three-time All-American and won the coach's award as the most improved gymnast.

"She got a taste of what was possible," Marsden said. "At nationals she finished ahead of a lot of kids who she couldn't touch in the elite program. Now it's her sophomore year and it's not coming as easily, and it can play with your head."

Ford won't say she is in a sophomore slump -- after all, she has five individual event victories and set a career high of 9.95 on the balance beam against USU -- but she is getting a little impatient.

"It's hard right now because last year by this time, I had so much more success," she said. "I didn't have any expectations and I just sort of went with the flow. I have very high expectations for myself, I remember everything that was bad."

She isn't the first to go through such a transition. Eberle had a similar experience in her first two years and sympathizes with her.

"She is doing a good job, and she is finding a lot out about herself," Eberle said. "She can't think about her routines too hard or expect wins all the time. She is figuring it out."

Queens always do.

Women's gymnastics


No. 1 Utah at No. 25 Minnesota,

8 p.m. MST

No. 8 Brigham Young

at Texas Women's University, 5 p.m. MST

Notable: Utah junior Natalie Nicoloff (arm) and Gabi Onodi (ankle) will be held out of the meet with injuries. Kristen Riffanacht, who sat out the win over Michigan with a strained hamstring, will compete.

Not your ordinary Ford

Utah's Nicolle Ford finished fourth on the uneven bars at the NCAA Championships. She won her first all-around title against Utah State and finished 20th in the all-around at the 2001 U.S. National Championships.