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Junior gymnast jumps in rankings

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | MARCH 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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Junior Jessa Hansen scored a 9.95 on floor exercise against Iowa State in the Field House on Feb. 25. She is ranked No. 7 in the NCAA in floor exercise and first in the region and Big Ten, but she is just now becoming comfortable in competition.

Two days after her career-best performance — the best score the GymHawks have seen in any event since 2008 — head coach Larissa Libby didn’t let Hansen warm up on floor during general warm-ups at the Master’s Classic in Lincoln, Neb., on Sunday.

After a “nerve-racking” wait to perform, Hansen took the floor and scored 9.900 despite being fatigued and sore.

“I told her, ‘Jessa, you don’t need to do any warm-ups. You’ve got this. You’ve hit every routine.’ She finally trusted that,” assistant coach Linas Gaveika said.

In the past, Hansen struggled with controlling her nerves, but this season, the problem has faded and nearly disappeared, and she has become a stable all-arounder.

“The difference between this year and last year is a level of assertion and a level of internal belief,” Libby said. “She believes in herself now. Everybody else knew she could do it, but Jessa didn’t know.”

This year, Hansen has stood out on floor exercise with a season average of 9.848, despite the difficulty the GymHawks have transitioning to and from the event during competition.

Floor exercise is a high-energy event in which the gymnasts build adrenaline by feeding off the crowd’s reactions and encouragement, Libby said. The beam requires a more focused and precise energy.

In dual competitions, the two events are paired — in home competitions, the GymHawks compete on beam in the third rotation and finish on floor. At away meets, however, the Hawkeyes perform floor exercise in the third rotation and then finish on beam. Occasionally, in quad or championship meets, the GymHawks have to compete on floor in the first rotation, as they did Sunday in the Master’s Classic.

“It’s hard both ways,” Libby said. “It’s hard to go from pure elation to having to stop your heartbeat and settle down for beam. But it’s also hard to start from nothing and have to pump yourself up right off the bat.”

Hansen has handled the transition well, despite her previous problems with anxiety. Her ability to cope with the stressful change in focus and energy comes from an increased comfort level she’s developed this year.

“My confidence really comes from a lot of training. I like to train hard and do a lot of repetitions of my routines so I have that muscle memory and confidence going into the meets to back me up,” she said. “I’ve been doing this routine for a long time, so it’s all just mental now.”

In practice, Gaveika works with the GymHawks on floor and gives each athlete assignments for the number of repetitions of certain elements in her routine. However, if Hansen begins to doubt herself or her performance, she continues to work past the requirement until she’s comfortable, Libby said.

“Gymnastics, it’s a very repetitive sport,” Gaveika said. “If your body can handle it, that’s what you’ve got to do. [Hansen] is a very pleasant kid to work with because she never doubts you when you tell her to train; she fully trusts the coaching. It’s a perfect example about how if you work hard, it’ll play off. It has paid off for Jessa.”


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