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Winning isn't everything for GymHawks

BY ALEX FRENCH | MARCH 22, 2012 6:30 AM

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Overall wins and losses aren't the unit of measurement for success in gymnastics.

Instead, accumulations of individual scores — which lead to a total team score — hold the highest merit.

Iowa women's gymnastics head coach Larissa Libby said it's an aspect of the sport that makes it unique.

"People don't understand our sport that well, and it's our job to educate," she said. "In terms of rankings, wins and losses don't matter; it's based solely on score."

Iowa's overall score is 194.995, according to the women's gymnastics rankings at troester.com. The Hawkeyes (6-7-1) currently sit at No. 28 in the country.

Libby said squads with high averages often have numerous team losses at the end of the regular season.

Three teams in the most recent NCAA top-25 rankings have losing records, but those three squads — No. 15 Auburn (7-10), No. 16 Minnesota (6-9), and No. 25 Iowa State (5-7) — average above 195 in overall score, according to NCAA.com.

The eighth-year Hawkeye head coach said there's a pride factor that goes along with winning and losing, especially against in-state and conference rivals.

"Not saying that we don't want to win, because that's what people recognize," she said.

But in the end, she said, her team is focused on something different.

"Regardless of the result, our outlook doesn't change," Libby said. "The team is still focused on the right thing, and that's getting a high score."

Senior all-arounder Jessa Hansen noted the scores of the nation's top 36 teams — the squads that qualify for nationals at the end of the regular season — are separated by just over 1 point.

The difference between the GymHawks' season average and that of No. 14 Boise State, for example, is 0.995 of a point.

"Gymnastics is won and loss by hundredths and thousandths of a point, so every little thing counts," said Hansen, a former Daily Iowan employee. "To be better than the team you're competing with in the arena is great, but ultimately you're competing with scores throughout the nation."

In the absence of the "one team vs. another" mindset, these scoring differentials — oftentimes fractions of a point — help gymnasts keep their competitive edge, Hansen said.

"I'm always motivated when I step on the floor, because it's performance," she said. "It doesn't matter who's in the arena or the stakes of the competition; I want to perform my best and make my scores count toward the overall team score."

Libby said it's difficult to remove the human component from gymnastics, because scoring is a subjective process.

But like Hansen, Libby said her team only focuses on things they can change.

"It helps you focus on the details and on the things that need to be done [to improve]," she said. "The goal is to raise the score, and along with that often comes winning."

Winning isn't everything in gymnastics, though. Even high scores take time, she said.

"You can't start a race at the finish line," she said. "You need to know how to get there first; it's a process that creates results."


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