Bringing down the haus

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

It took freshman Daria Bijak (pronounced Bee-Jawk) all of about 10 days to make her first statement as a member of the Utah Gymnastics squad. Just a week-and-a-half after the German native made a 24-hour trip to Salt Lake City for the start of classes, Bijak returned home to successfully defend her German all-around championship and also win the uneven bars championship in Stuttgart, Germany, over Labor Day weekend.

Getting Bijak to come to the U was the type of windfall that came from having ties to the German National team, ties that started with 2000 All-American Angelika Schatton. Having Schatton on the team later introduced U head coach Greg Marsden to former Ute gymnast Gritt Hofmann.

“Because Gritt was on the team, we had that connection with the German National team. They came (during the 2003 World Championships) and rented our facilities, stayed at the guest house and were here for about two weeks prior to going on (to Anaheim),” Marsden said.

Hofmann kept in contact with Bijak over the next year, and that contact eventually led the U to receive some promising news. Bijak expressed to Hofmann that she had a desire to come to North America, which led coach Marsden to pose an important question to Bijak.

“I had Gritt just ask her if she would be interested in school,” Marsden said. “In the beginning, I don’t think there was a lot of interest, but the more she talked about it with her coach, her mom and some other people, I think they really encouraged her to take the opportunity.”

It took about two years from the moment Bijak expressed interest before she was eligible to compete at the U.

“It’s very complicated with the international kids here, between new rules with the NCAA and with NIS,” coach Marsden said.

Bijak cites the pursuit of a degree in theater, combined with the ability to continue competing in gymnastics, as big reasons she chose to come to the United States, things that weren’t possible for her to do in Germany.

“I think that it is a big chance for me to study and to do gymnastics because if I wanted to do something like theater in Germany, I would have to stop doing gymnastics and just concentrate on doing school,” Bijak said.

Bijak will continue to compete in international gymnastics. Her next trip will be to Aarhus, Denmark, where she will compete in the World Championships from Oct. 13-21. Bijak’s biggest goal is to compete in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Although injuries and early season fatigue are a concern when an athlete like Daria competes at such a high level before the season begins, coach Marsden supports his athletes’ goals.

“Any time your program gains exposure on the international scene or on the domestic scene, I think it’s helpful, especially in the recruiting classes,” Marsden said.

Bijak is a powerful gymnast who loves performing. She indicated that the floor is her favorite event because she loves to dance and perform. Bijak admitted she isn’t stronger in any one event compared with another, but winning a national all-around championship is proof that she doesn’t have too many weaknesses, either. Bijak and the Red Rocks hope that she can bring her international experience and all-around success to the U team and help them capture an 11th national championship this spring.