Ashley Postell will always have Budapest.
And, somehow, that takes the edge off everything else, including her quite normal teenaged angst and her remarkably abnormal opportunity for greatness as a collegiate gymnast.
Come what may, the Utah freshman once was the best athlete in the world on the balance beam, exhibited by her first-place finish in the event at the 2002 World Championships in Hungary. How many people can say they were better than everyone else on the planet at any one endeavor? It's a ridiculous thing to be able not only to say, but to comprehend.
"I'm still kind of shocked by it, said Postell, giggling. "It kind of makes you feel like you've accomplished something, like you've done something meaningful, like you've done something with your life.
And it kind of eases the uncertainty of what's next in that life, on the floor, on the beam, on the bars, on the vault, and off them, too.
Postell was the only former World Champion competing Saturday night at the NCAA's North Central Regional meet at the Huntsman Center, where Utah, Brigham Young, Southern Utah, and three other teams battled to advance to the nationals.
Utah and BYU did, and Postell helped boost the Utes in their bid, but she also fell during her beam routine, an uncharacteristic mistake.
She won the uneven parallel bars, though, rolling up her best number of the season - 9.925 - in that event. She got a 9.875 in the vault, and wound up with a 9.775 on the floor, after she was deducted .10 for landing out of bounds. Despite the disappointing 9.325 in her best event, Postell was happy just to help out.
"This is about our team, she said. "That's what's really different about college gymnastics. And it feels good to have a team. Before I came here, gymnastics was always about yourself. It was always just me. This is . . . fun.
If team domination is fun, despite a couple screw-ups, the Utes had theirs Saturday night.
"Nobody's perfect, Postell said. "I'm OK. We found a way to win and that's the main thing. I'm happy to be a part of it.
The notion of team is a nice crescendo now for her, after the brutally solitary and chronologically puerile pursuit of elite gymnastics exacted its toll on Postell through her early - well, earlier - years in the sport. She was introduced to that existence after her mother, Linda, observed her dancing and tumbling in front of the TV, to somebody's floor routine being broadcast during the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
Postell took to the gym easily, dedicating some 35 hours a week to training as she ascended to the discipline's top levels. "There were times when I wanted to quit, she said. "There are a lot of ups and downs in gymnastics. It's hard. But my mom encouraged me to stay with it.
Over the years, Postell traveled to competitions in France, Germany, Scotland, the Ukraine, Australia, and Hungary. She was home-schooled in Maryland, where she said her days consisted of schoolwork, training, and sleep.
After her world championship in 2002, at 16, she set her sights on making the 2004 U.S. Olympic team, but fell just one spot short of qualifying for the trials. Instead of jumping through the necessary hoops to get into that competition, Postell turned her attention to college. At first, she wanted to go to UCLA, but, on account of her home-schooling and a delay in taking the SAT, she wound up at Utah, where she is thriving in her first year.
Nearing the end of that freshman season, Postell is ranked fourth in the all-around among college gymnasts, with a realistic shot now at individual and team NCAA titles - if she exorcises her mishaps before the coming nationals.
"In the beginning, I felt pressure here, she said. "But, now, 12 meets later, it's better. It's less intense than gymnastics used to be for me. It's something new. I'm going to school, having fun, hanging out with my friends. I can enjoy this more. I get the best of both worlds - gymnastics and a life. It's great.