Iowa gymnasts finding their balance on the beam

BY MATT CABEL | JANUARY 31, 2013 5:00 AM

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It sits 5 feet above the ground. A thin layer of chalk dusts the surface. Remains of small footprints dance across it.

On this 4-inch wide beam, some gymnastics meets are won and lost.

Gymnasts perform a variety of tricks on the beam, including turns, leaps, hops, and flips. The athletes are judged by the difficulty of their tricks, the execution of them, and whether they can stay on the beam for the length of their routine.

The Iowa women’s gymnastics team struggled with the balance beam early in the season. In the GymHawk’s opening meet against Ball State, three of the six gymnasts fell at some point in their routine. The team hopes its troubles are over after a strong performance against Penn State, Pittsburgh, and Rutgers last weekend.

First-year assistant coach Jacob Lee switched to coaching bars after the GymHawks tallied their lowest scores on the beam in their first two meets. The change worked — Iowa scored a season high 48.725 on the beam last weekend. Head coach Larissa Libby thought the gymnasts needed to hear different things. She had Lee focus more on pressure than individual numbers.

“We started off by just going back to the beginning: setting up our lineups, running through them like we would at a meet, in competition order,” freshman all-around gymnast Alie Glover said. “If someone fell, we’d put in the alternate and worked to get the most solid team that we can, that we can trust.”

Many GymHawks refer to the mentality that’s required when competing on the beam as the most difficult aspect of the event; the width of the beam is a daunting factor to think about when performing this seemingly difficult event. Glover noted that the gymnasts have key words they use during their routines as a way to keep calm — she constantly reminds herself to breathe and focus during her routines.

“Try walking on a curb,” Libby said. “If you had to walk on the curb the rest of your life, you would fall off at some point.”

Point deductions come very easily when a gymnast falls off the beam, as the GymHawks have experienced. This has been a key factor in all of their meets so far. The team’s losses against Penn State and Ohio State were both decided by less than a point.

“I only have 4 inches to work with [on the beam],” senior Kaitlynn Urano said. “I have to put aside the fact that it’s possible to fall and have to put into my head that I won’t fall, that I do not fall. That’s something I’ve really been working on this year, telling myself that I never fall on beam and that it’s not a problem — 4 inches is big enough.”

Despite their struggles, the GymHawks believe their troubles to be over going into this weekend’s meet against Michigan, which is ranked third in nation.

“I’m confident in my beam team, I’m confident in myself, I’m confident in the five other girls and our alternates,” Urano said. “No matter who goes, we’re all going to hit. There’s no question.”

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