There is no other event more than the balance beam that the mental aspect of gymnastics is so obvious. A shaky leg here or a hesitant move there and just like that a gymnast can be tagged for a fall.
Utah’s gymnastics team has proven over and over again it has the mental stuff down as it has performed well under pressure on the event and finished the regular season ranked third with a 49.588 average.
But opening on the balance beam at the NCAA Championships, as the Utes will do on Friday, presents its own challenges.
Thanks to the stiff competition at the NCAAs the Utes can’t be tentative because there is little chance to make up scoring later. But how does a team get pumped up to go then open on such an emotionally controlled event as the balance beam is? That is the issue the Utes have to overcome if they want to advance to Saturday’s finals.
Normally teams hate opening on beam because of the dynamics it presents, but Utah coach Tom Farden isn’t taking that stance.
“We are excited about this rotation,” he said. “Beam is our strength so we feel like we can set the tone on it and finish strong on the rest of the events.”
NCAA GYMNASTICS CHAMPIONSHIPS
At Fort Worth, Texas
All Times Mountain
When • Friday
TV • ESPN2
(National qualifying scores noted with teams)
Session 1, 11 a.m. • No. 2 Michigan (395.9), No. 3 Florida (395.644), No. 6 California (395.363), No. 8 Minnesota (394.856)
Session 2, 4 p.m. • No. 1 Oklahoma (396.119), No. 4 LSU (395.563), No. 5 Utah (395.481), No. 7 Alabama (395.1113)
Top two teams from each session advance to Saturday’s finals at 1:30 p.m., which will be televised by ABC
Utah opened with a 49.55 on the event with the last four gymnasts scoring 9.9 or higher.
Alexia Burch started the rotation with a 9.875, a routine Farden said was key to the Utes’ big night.
“She is in a really good head space for beam,” he said. “In the preseason she embraced that role and said she wanted to do it for the team. She took that on and she has gotten some really high marks.”
What Burch has been able to do is emphasize being aggressive, rather than just getting pumped up, to hit beam under pressure. That is a mentality that Farden wants out of his whole team.
“We call it a charging attitude,” Farden said. “We want them to be aggressive. You might have one or two routines that are tentative, but you hope you can be aggressive for 24 routines.”
Farden admits it is easier for the Utes to ‘get up,’ for the events that follow beam, particularly floor and vault since they are the power events. He hopes whatever momentum the Utes can build there will carry into the uneven bars, Utah’s final event.
“We have been doing a lot of intrasquads so we can simulate what this is going to be like,” Farden said. “We have put them in a lot of high pressure situations and they’ve been consistent. Hopefully we can get that dialed in.”