Gymnastics: Utes choose to power up

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Artistry over power.

For many years, that description fit the University of Utah's gymnastics team as snugly as a leotard.

While some teams, including UCLA and Georgia, went for power, Utah emphasized the grace and artistic side of gymnastics.

For many years, Utah's philosophy was a winning one, helping the Utes claim 10 national titles. But the times, well, they do change.

Soon, Utah found itself a couple tenths behind its top competitors at nationals, as those powerhouses had vault lineups filled with 10.0 vaults, while Utah may have had four with the 10.0 start value and the others at 9.9.

And anyone who follows collegiate gymnastics knows you can't give away two-tenths of a point at the NCAAs and still win on a regular basis, not with the increased level of talent now on display at the national championships.

A lack of power isn't the only reason Utah hasn't won a national title since 1995. That the Utes suffered falls on the uneven bars the last two years is a bigger factor. But a lack of power certainly didn't help their case either.

"I didn't do as good of a job as a coach in keeping up on the change as well as I should have," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "We've always emphasized pretty gymnastics and sometimes we didn't go for the strength, and that may have hurt us the last few years."

Give the guy credit: He can acknowledge his mistakes and fix them just as quickly. Recognizing Utah needed more power, Marsden went out and recruited gymnasts to give Utah more oomph, signing gymnasts such as Annabeth Eberle, Nicolle Ford, Ashley Postell and Kristen Riffanacht.

As a result, vaulting has gone from one of Utah's weaker events to one of its best. The Utes are ranked No. 2 on the vault, with a 49.345 regional qualifying score. UCLA is first with a 49.38 average.

Now, not only do the six regular vaulters in Utah's lineup have 10.0 vaults, but several others also do as well, giving the Utes depth if needed.

"When I was a freshman, we didn't always have 10.0 vaults," said Eberle, ranked eighth on the event. "Now that we do, it shows how competitive we are."

One of the possible downfalls of going for more power is it's often riskier, resulting in more falls. But vault has been one of Utah's most consistent events this year, and the only one in which the Utes have scored above 49.0 in every meet.

"Vault is one place that we don't give away tenths like we might do on some of the other events," Ford said. "It has become one of our best events, and almost everybody has another 10.0 vault in case we make event finals. That will be a big help."

Vaulting finals require two different vaults, and the scores are averaged together. But that meet isn't until Saturday. For now, the Utes hope they can vault into Friday's Super Six.

"Gymnastics is still called artistic, and I hope it stays that way. If it doesn't, we might as well call it acrobatics," Marsden said. "But the fact that things change, hopefully we've found a good balance. We're no longer at the other end of the spectrum."


Starts Thursday in Auburn, Ala.

* Utah and BYU are among 12 teams trying to advance to Friday's finals