Corvallis, Ore. » If Utah's meet against Oregon State comes down to the last routines tonight, it'll be up to Nina Kim to win or lose the competition for Utah on arguably the hardest event, the balance beam.
She won't be thinking about her responsibility, though; she'll be occupying herself with everyone else instead.
"I try to watch the other girls and cheer them on and take the focus off me," she said. "I worry a lot anyway, so if I worry about the other girls, that helps when it's my turn."
Anchoring the balance beam lineup is both a privilege and an immense responsibility for gymnasts. Kim is adjusting to the role after going fourth last year, ahead of Daria Bijak and Ashley Postell.
Postell's command of the beam looked so effortless the Utes and their fans were spoiled with the ease in which she competed. If she ever felt pressure to win a meet for the Utes on the event, she never showed it. Postell fell only once off the beam in 2008, against Oregon State, and scored 9.8 or higher in the 11 other meets leading up to the NCAA Championships. There, she scored 9.875 and 9.9 in the team competitions.
Kim hopes she can become comfortable enough as the anchor to deliver performances such as the ones Postell had.
"It's a huge challenge, but I love challenges," she said. "It makes me get out of my box that I'm in and it pushes me to see how far I can push myself, so it's nice for my team to be able to depend on me."
Kristina Baskett, Utah's other senior, anchors the Utes on vault and the uneven bars, and Annie DiLuzio goes last on floor. Every team member knows it's her responsibility to perform her best for the team score, but doing so on the beam brings its own unique challenges, especially as the last one to go.
At home, going last on the beam isn't quite as bad because the floor rotation is left, but on the road, such as tonight at Oregon State, the visiting team finishes on beam. Often the atmosphere is intense and rowdy, with the home fans cheering their gymnasts' floor routines.
Believing she could handle those challenges is why the coaches settled on Kim to finish off the beam rotation, said assistant coach Megan Marsden, who coaches beam.
"Rarely is there a time when you go through the beam lineup and everything has gone smoothly for the five in front of you, so she can almost bank on thinking, 'OK, I have to do this,'" Marsden said of Kim. "Others are feeling it too, but since she is the last one, the meet's going to come down to her, and it's a lot of pressure. No question you have to approach it from a strong mental standpoint, and I feel like she's getting into that position."
So far, Kim has scored a 9.925 in the season opener against UCLA, a 9.85 at Georgia and a 9.875 against Washington on the beam.
She admits she isn't quite happy with her performances, believing she hasn't performed as well in competition as she does in practice, but she's getting there, she said.
"Greg and Megan have been working hard with us to be prepared mentally so we can do our routines in meets as well as we do in training; we can do them in our sleep in training," Kim said.
As Kim becomes more and more comfortable on the beam, her scores likely will rise, Marsden predicts.
"Her quality of movement, especially on the beam and floor, is beautiful," she said. "She has that international competitor polish that Ashley had."
Tonight, 8 p.m.
About the Utes » Utah leads the series 53-6 and 14-6 in Corvallis. Kyndal Robarts is expected to compete for the first time this season as the leadoff on balance beam. Kristina Baskett leads the Utes with five wins. Jamie Deetscreek (12-12) and Daria Bijak (9-9) have yet to fall.
About the Beavers » Last beat Utah at home in 2003. Coming off an upset of then-No. 5 Arkansas. Season high is a 196.45. Mandi Rodriguez is the top all-arounder (39.425). Coached by Tanya Chaplin (11th year).