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Utah gymnastics: Utes hoping to duplicate their 1995 trip to Georgia
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The last time Utah gymnasts competed in Georgia's Stegeman Coliseum, the meet was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Last February, the Utes suffered their worst defeat since 2001, losing 196.850-195.475 in a competition that left the Utes feeling embarrassed and shaken in their confidence.

But Athens hasn't always treated the Utes so badly, and they hope their return trip to Georgia is more like their appearance in 1995 than last season's debacle.

Then, the Utes went to Athens with just eight healthy gymnasts and only slim hopes of winning a national title.

The Utes barely qualified the first night, and in the Super Six, all the attention was on Georgia, UCLA, Michigan and Alabama.

The Utes quietly went about their meet, finished their competition on the bars and then waited out the final rotation on a bye, watching from the tunnels.

"To be honest, I didn't really think we had a chance," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "I knew we'd done a good job, but I didn't think we had a chance to win."

They weren't on the floor, but everything still went Utah's way. All its top competition toppled as nerves and pressure seemed to shake gymnasts off an apparatus one after another.

Suddenly, all the mistakes put Utah on top of the podium. The results shocked the fans, CBS - which hadn't bothered to tape much of the Utes for its highlight show of the championships - and the Utes themselves.

It was the most surprising of all the 10 national championships won by the Utes.

"Everything had to happen the way it did," Marsden said. "It was such unusual circumstances for a finish. You couldn't imagine that happening."

The Utes were the only team that didn't count a fall in the Super Six, a fact Marsden intends to share with the current team. The Utes haven't counted a fall this year, and he definitely doesn't want them to underestimate the importance of continuing that consistency now that they are headed to the heart of enemy territory.

"It's going to be tough for anybody other than one of the SEC teams to come out of there as champion," he said. "But I've been doing this long enough to know you go down there and do your best and see what happens."

Georgia has hosted the championships two other times. In 1989, it won the title, and in 2001, UCLA won. Utah finished fifth both years.

It is, as the Utes learned last year, one of the hardest places in which to compete.

This weekend won't be any different, since a sellout crowd is expected and five of the 12 teams competing are from the SEC.

"There is definitely a big home-court advantage there," Marsden said. "The majority of the fans are going to be Georgia, and if they can't win, they want somebody in the SEC to win. They have that mutual admiration society thing going on down there."

It's going to be loud and raucous, much like it was for the regular season meet in which the Utes fell apart.

They don't see the same thing happening this time.

"The whole idea of one mistake ruining a meet happened a lot last year," sophomore Beth Rizzo said. "It made it worse because of who they were and how we wanted to compete against them. But we have to realize we are not competing just against Georgia. It's not about competing against the other teams even, it's about showing what we have been doing all year."

lwodraska@sltrib.com

NCAA Championships

At Athens, Ga.

Thursday: Preliminaries, 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Friday: Super Six, 4 p.m.

Saturday: Individual championships, 4 p.m.

Going South

NCAA Championships at Georgia:

2001

1. UCLA 197.575

2. Georgia 197.400

3. Michigan 197.275

4. Alabama 196.550

5. Utah, Nebraska 196.025

1995

1. Utah 196.650

2. Alabama and Michigan 196.425

4. UCLA 196.150

5. Georgia 196.075

1989

1. Georgia 192.650

2. UCLA 192.600

3. Alabama 192.100

4. Nebraska 190.800

5. Utah 190.200

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