Utah gymnast Cristal Isa now dealing with the weight of expectations — but she says she’ll push through it

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cristal Isa competes on the beam for Utah in the Best of Utah gymnastics meet at the Maverik Center on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021.

Cristal Isa first earned a reputation as a bubbly gymnast who always had a smile or lighthearted comment ready for her teammates.
Then, last year, she earned a reputation as being one of Utah’s top competitors, earning second-team All-American honors on the balance beam and uneven bars along with five event titles.
Being known as much, if not more, for her gymnastics success led to some adjustments as Isa prepped for the 2021 season, she admitted.
Isa had a strong debut in the Best of Utah meet, scoring 9.8 or higher on every event, but she struggled some in Utah’s loss at Oklahoma knowing what was at stake against the defending national champions.
At the Huntsman Center
When • Saturday, 1 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network
Suddenly the gymnast who never seemed to know pressure felt it, translating into some uncharacteristic goofs in Utah’s loss at Oklahoma, namely a balk on the balance beam where she scored 9.625 and a short vault that scored just 9.7.
“Last year went better than I expected and it showed the last meet,” Isa said. “I felt a lot of weight.”
But rather than dwell on the errors, Isa is being positive as the sixth-ranked Utes prepare for their home opener Saturday against Arizona. The 1 p.m. meet will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.
“I’m trying not to focus on the outcome as much and what will happen if I do bad and just focus on the moment,” she said.

In the past when she has had that singular focus, good things happen for the Henderson, Nev., gymnast. Isa almost made a mockery of the balance beam last year, performing on the 4-inch wide beam with a confidence rarely seen on the apparatus. She earned scores of 9.9 or higher in six of nine meets, including three consecutive 9.95s.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah’s Cristal Isa during her 9.950 performance on the beam. The University of Utah Red Rocks defeated Oregon State, 197.100 to 196.275, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020 at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

Isa said her success on the beam is being able to think about nothing at all.
“I clear my head and usually sing the song that’s playing or random stuff like that,” said Isa, who often chooses rap songs for the background during her beam routine.
That she is able to be so successful blocking out pressure on the beam should help her handle the expectations on her this year with just a few mental adjustments.
“She is more aware of where she is as a gymnast after being ranked fourth or fifth in the all-around last year,” Utah coach Tom Farden said. “She realized she was one of the best, but for her, the best thing she can do is be Cristal out there. Sometimes she is her biggest enemy and presses a little bit. She is brilliant when she is lighthearted and smiling and letting her personality show.”
Isa feels she can get back to that mainframe.
“I am a perfectionist so I was pretty disappointed with my performance at Oklahoma,” she said. “I know I can do better.”
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