Iowa gymnastics gets personal on the floor


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Emma Stevenson stands with her back bent, hands on her hips, head down. The senior gymnast waves to the crowd as an up-tempo song begins to play. She runs, somersaults, and twists. She moves gracefully across the blue square area, as if she is one with the music. Her teammates dance along. They’ve seen this routine many times before — they know it well and love to show support for their teammate.

When gymnasts perform on the floor, things get personal. “It’s like a show: you’re trying to engage the audience, you’re trying to engage your team members, you’re trying to engage the judges,” senior Maya Wickus said. “You pull them in with your dance, and you wow them with your tumbling.”

Gymnasts perform these routines on the spring floor — a 39-by-39-foot erformance area. Any music and type of routine is game, as long as the gymnast stays inside the confines and doesn’t perform longer than 90 seconds. Routines have two main aspects, said women’s gymnastics head coach Larissa Libby: the physical and the artistic. The gymnast’s endurance and tumbling skills make up the physical, while her dance moves, leaps, and jumps form the artistry.

Gymnasts must perform at least three tumbling passes in their routines. Passes can consist of “anything from a round-up backhand spring double Arabian to a front handspring double full,” Wickus said. Libby choreographs the routines but lets the gymnasts have input to individualize the routine. Libby also allows her gymnasts to choose their own music. Once a song has been decided, Libby creates the mix herself. Iowa gymnasts have the option to have their coach pick music for them, but it’s a practice Libby doesn’t suggest. She believes her gymnasts won’t perform their routines as well if it doesn’t reflect their personality.

“A lot of times it’s because they don’t think they can physically dance to that,” Libby said. “But until you get them going, they never know.” Gymnasts receive bonus points from the judges based on the difficulty of their passes, up to a score of 10, and are judged on the difficulty and execution of their leaps and presentation during the routine.

“Everything counts: your leaps, your landings, your presentation,” sophomore Jessica Morreale said. “Gymnastics is skills, power and endurance, but it’s also the way you present yourself.” Morreale performs her routine to Pitbull’s “Hotel Room Service” as a reflection of her upbeat personality, a song that allows her to showcase her smile.

The GymHawks have found success on the floor so far this season, sitting at 15th in the national rankings. The team scored a season high 49 against Michigan on Feb. 2 and topped the score on Feb. 8 in a meet against Illinois-Chicago and Michigan State with 49.275. Stevenson leads Iowa on the floor. The Winfield, Ill., native is ranked 42nd in the nation in the event, with an average individual score of 9.845. The routine has personal significance to the senior. The two songs, “Rayos Del Sol” and “Danza Kuduro,” take Stevenson back to last summer, where she heard both the songs while traveling in Spain.

Back on the floor, Stevenson stands in the bottom right corner. She begins to run again, somersualts, and lands safely in the opposite corner. She falls to the foor with a spin, raising an arm high towards the ceiling. She remains still as the music fades, a smile on her face. The crowd begins to cheer; the senior breathes a sigh of relief. “It’s a really good time — I’m not ever nervous in the routine,” Stevenson said. “It’s more just like getting the crowd involved, getting the judges involved, of course getting my team involved. I try to just have a good time with it — it is only a minute and 30 seconds of that kind of attention. It’s kind of fun.”

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