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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Marsden’s mojo

By Tony Pizza

Merriam-Webster defines a drought as “a prolonged or chronic shortage or lack of something expected or desired.”

Maybe the U gymnastics team doesn’t necessarily expect to win national championships every year, but the desire to win one grows more intense with each passing year that the Utes fall short.

Since the Utes last took home a gymnastics title in Georgia in 1995, the Utes have struggled at times to even make a dent on the national scene. Sure, they have advanced out of their Regional every year, but naysayers can point to the fact that they have failed to reach the Super Six twice during the drought and they’ve only managed to finish in the top three in four of those 11 seasons.

But after delving deeper into the cause of Utah’s so-called drought, the reasons behind the recent dry spell are somewhat illuminating.

“I used to watch college gymnastics on TV. It looked so easy, but that’s not the case at all,” said U captain Nicolle Ford. “More high-level gymnasts are going to college and taking that route, and it’s just getting harder in general.”

It used to be that colleges primarily recruited from the Level-10 pool, which is the equivalent of the Junior Olympic level. Most of the upper-echelon gymnasts competing in Elite gymnastics either went on to the Olympics or tried to use their name to make money in other avenues.

“Elites wouldn’t go to school or college for gymnastics. They’d take promotional stuff and take money and get paid for other things,” Ford said. “Now, a lot of Elites are holding out for college and it never used to be like that. That’s why it’s so much harder now, because the level of competition has gone up.”

Not only has the level of competition finally caught up to the bar Marsden initially set early in his career, but most of his tactics have been incorporated into other gymnastics programs as well.

Marsden revolutionized gymnastics with the presentation of the sport to fans, and he also introduced the use of psychologists, dietitians, strength trainers and other specialists into his program. With most gymnastics programs wising to Marsden’s ways, he has fewer selling points to offer.

Basically, it has come down to a battle over competition, with Marsden often losing out to more attractive schools on the coasts. But he has still managed to keep the U program competitive by using any advantage he can. He has been known to spend many nights concocting ways to help his team gain an edge.

“It’s been a challenge. His mind is constantly working on, ‘How can we do this; how can we do that?'” said student coach Kristen Riffanacht.

“He loses sleep over that. He doesn’t sleep during the season, I promise,” Ford said.

One thing Marsden has done to try to make the athletes better is make practices more productive by working his athletes harder in practice, both as individuals and as a team.

“I have to say the conditioning gets harder every year,” Riffanacht said. “We totally changed our approach (in practice) my junior year. We started doing routines the day before the meet and more team practices and hitting (routines) in a row. We took third and second my last two years.”

Marsden has also tried to bring his athletes closer together as a team, as well.

In the past, each gymnast chose who their roommate was going to be during road meets each season. But last year, he implemented a different tactic.

Marsden began assigning his gymnasts their roommates, and he rotates the roommate situation every time the team goes out on the road.

“It’s just another thing to make the team closer,” Ford said. “People get excited and we’ll be on the bus or on the plane and we’ll be like, ‘Who are we rooming with?’ It’s a big production.”

It may be understandable coming from Marsden’s own gymnasts, but mention the phrase, “Greg is slipping,” and one will get an earful of disagreement.

“I don’t think that he’s slipping,” Riffanacht said. “(Marsden) has done a good job of adjusting the program to the athletes. It’s been a challenge.”

“He’s still one of the most successful coaches,” Ford said. “He knows what he’s doing. Whether it works out every year — it doesn’t for any team. Everyone has ups and downs.”

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