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Eccentric GymHawks get particular

BY ROBBIE LEHMAN | MARCH 26, 2010 7:30 AM

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Gymnasts aren’t afraid to say it. They know they can be a little quirky at times.

When the Iowa gymnastics team travels to Columbus, Ohio, this weekend for the Big Ten championship at 1 p.m. Saturday, it will travel along with some interesting superstitions.

Just about every GymHawk does something, eats something, or wears something before or during each competition for luck.

Sophomore Jordan Eszlinger doesn’t wear earrings anymore. Junior Rebecca Simbhudas absolutely cannot have anyone in her peripheral vision or standing next to the mat when she’s competing, and the mats have to be perfectly straight for her to begin.

Sophomore Melissa Miller also doesn’t like for her teammates to cheer for her when she’s performing on the balance beam.

All-arounder Houry Gebeshian cannot watch others or hear scores over the loudspeakers. She has to be completely secluded before she competes. And she can usually be found listening to her iPod in a faraway corner until she’s up.

“It’s kind of funny because as soon as one of them gets ready to compete, I know what’s going to mess them up,” team manager Brittany Laskowski said. “Little quirks mess with your mind because it is such a mental sport. Everybody has her own little thing.”

Laskowski, a former gymnast, knows the rundown of the entire squad’s superstitions. Freshman Emma Stevenson eats red grapes and drinks a purple Gatorade before every meet.

“I just like to have [red grapes] because I used to get really dizzy at meets,” she said. “I just started eating them all the time. Now, I’m fine; I don’t get dizzy anymore.”

Stevenson also sports the same hairstyle each competition. She and sophomore Jessa Hansen must perform a special handshake before each event, no matter what, they said.

In contrast to some of the more picky and specific wishes of her teammates, senior Jenny Donar will go even if the mats are crooked and the bars aren’t set.

“She’ll just go,” Laskowski said. “She has no problem.”

Iowa head coach Larissa Libby has kept this team together all year after struggles with injuries, young lineups, and mental mistakes. The Hawkeyes are ranked No. 30 and are a near lock for the NCAA regional meet on April 10, in which the top 36 teams qualify regardless of regional affiliation.

Libby is fully aware of the GymHawks unique preparations and doesn’t mind any superstitions if it makes them perform their best.

“It’s just one of those things that you cling to,” said Libby, who always ate Chinese food before competing. “When something works, you hope it continues to work. A lot of them are pretty crazy. Some of them are not superstitious but more inspirational. I think it’s a comfort more than anything else.”

Despite its top-30 ranking, Iowa heads into the meet in sixth out of seven Big Ten teams. The Hawkeyes are also hoping for redemption after a disappointing seventh-place finish in the 2009 conference meet.

The GymHawks will not only rely on talent but on luck as well.

“Really, it’s talent and preparation that makes the difference,” Libby said. “But if there’s one thing that you can cling to that gives you comfort, it’s those little superstitions I guess.”


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