Monson: This sport is defined by decimal points
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This nasty spit-and-vinegar-rivalry thing between two women's teams with athletes who look as though they just danced out from under enchanted toadstools, pixie dust trailing in their wake, and coaches who throw accusations, and snort fire and smoke at one another, was something too good to resist.

I had to see it.

Even if it was college gymnastics, an endeavor that I've never been convinced is actually a sport.

Not that those who participate aren't athletes. On the contrary, they are supremely conditioned and gifted competitors, getting their bodies to perform stunts that seem anatomically impossible. It's just that the way winners and losers are determined tilts the event from pure competition more toward subjective exhibition.

And that fact appears to have had a stoking effect, a lasting impact on the rivalry between Utah's and Georgia's little women, who faced off Monday night at the Huntsman Center.

No. 6 vs. No. 1.

In past meets, slivers of fractions of points awarded and totaled by judges have separated the teams, and it was more of the same this time, Georgia beating the Utes, 197.100 to 197.075.

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Were the Gym Dogs really better?

Beats the bejeebers out of me.

There were obvious mistakes here, subtle hops and bobbles there, mixed in with exquisite execution, too. And with each and all, from the floor to the vault to the beam to the bars, those judges took their notes and tallied their scores, ultimately pronouncing their decision.

There were scattered boos from the crowd of nearly 14,000.

But the rancor that had erupted between the coaches - Utah's Greg Marsden and Georgia's Suzanne Yoculan - in past encounters, including claims of intimidation of judges and being robbed of victory by bad verdicts, was mostly absent after this meet.

The best postgame shot was fired off by Yoculan, who looks and acts a bit like the preeminent ice queen.

"We're not going to talk about scoring tonight," she said. "I'll let Greg do that."

Marsden wasn't biting: "I can't be unhappy about anything tonight . . . I hope what my team takes from this is a feeling that they are right there. But enough discontent that they're willing to make a final push over the last six weeks."

Leave the unhappiness with me, then.

The problem I had with this meet, and with gymnastics in general, isn't generated by some piggish, sexist attitude that diminutive women twirling and spinning and prancing about will never compare with, say, extraordinarily large men slamming into each other on a football field or dunking a ball on a basketball court. It always goes back to the power and subjectivity of the arbiters.

Dependency on judges is at gymnastics' flawed core.

Referees screw those other sports up enough, whenever they see things wrong and force their will upon the outcome in small increments. In fouls called, in whistles blown, in penalties assessed.

In gymnastics, those increments are everywhere. They are all that matters. The judges might be right some or even most of the time. But when we're dealing in the aforementioned slivers of fractions, the margins are too fragile, the judges too human.

But the decision, nonetheless, is rock-solidly determinative.

Somebody wins, somebody loses, because somebody says so.

Maybe it doesn't matter. This so-called sport is so physically and mentally taxing, so beautifully performed, perhaps it does not require exactness in properly decreeing a winner. On the other hand, the Huntsman Center wasn't nearly filled because the teams were also-rans.

One of the real positives about college gymnastics is the fact that the athletes themselves often enjoy it more than their earlier years in the pursuit, when they endured eight hours of solitary training a day, driven by either a dream to make the Olympics or a parent or coach who had dreams of her or his own, realized vicariously through young athletes who were essentially giving up the large measure of their lives to forge ahead.

This is something different. NCAA training restraints dictate that athletes exceed no more than 20 hours a week in the gym. That gives them time to go to school and moderate personal things on the balance beam of life.

"It's less intense than gymnastics used to be for me," said Ute sophomore Ashley Postell, a former world champion who was Utah's top performer against the Gym Dogs. "It's a different world. I'm having fun, going to school, hanging out with friends. It's so much more fun to do this in college. It's great to have a life."

The Utes, in fact, were giggling after the meet.

So what if they lost to Georgia by .025.

If that sounds condescending, it's not meant to be. The performances were entertaining and downright cool, and remarkably athletic. The rivalry was what it is. The judging determined the outcome.

I still don't know if it was sport, but whatever it was, it was worth watching.

gmonson@sltrib.com