Gymnastics: Bijak battles with perfection

By By Jon Gilbert and By Jon Gilbert

By Jon Gilbert

Perfection is distinguished by a score of 10.0 in college gymnastics. For Daria Bijak, those digits have yet to show on a scorecard in her time at Utah.

She thinks the reason for that might be because she is trying too hard to achieve perfection.

Bijak’s relentless quest for that perfection was evident in Utah’s final regular season meet against BYU on March 28.

The sophomore was slated to perform in the all-around competition but almost didn’t make it past the first event. On the vault, Bijak landed a bit off balance. Instead of taking a step — and a deduction — she tried to steady herself as she impacted the mat. The result was an awkward and scary landing, which concluded with a fall.

Bijak slowly returned to her feet while Utah head coach Greg Marsden looked on with concern. She exited to the locker room for a little while so that the team trainers could examine the knee that she had hyper-extended. When she came back to the competition floor, she was ready to finish what she had started.

“I just didn’t want to accept the fact that I was hurt again,” Bijak said.

Assistant coach Jeff Graba approached Bijak before the team rotated to compete on bars.

“Jeff came over and said, ‘Stop trying to be perfect,'” Bijak said.

Bijak never wants to make a mistake. She is always trying to stick every landing, nail every element and wow the judges. However, that strategy has sometimes overhyped competition in her head and led to injuries.

“She always wants to do her best,” teammate Kristina Baskett said. “She pushes herself, and I know that’s rough on her body.”

With no lights, no crowds and no judges at practice, Bijak is at her best. When those elements are added, butterflies start to gather in her stomach.

Graba has worked with Bijak on trying to control her nervous energy and focus on doing things the right way and not worrying about doing them perfectly.

“I wanted her to be Daria, which in my interpretation, that’s as close to perfect as we can get,” Graba said.

Bijak’s late arrival in fall of 2006 for her freshman year cut her preseason short. Graba said that he and Bijak held a “crash course” to establish a communication system. That system was made more complicated because Bijak, a German native, was still learning English. What resulted was a mixture of English and German that has become the communication system for Graba and Bijak.

Graba uses the word “sharp” to remind Bijak about “bouncing” on top of the bar during her uneven bars routine. Graba says “fest”, which is German for “tight.”

“I’m trying to get her to do it, so it’s her talking in her head,” Graba said.

Bijak said she tries to stay distracted before meets to postpone any nerves. She also visualizes her routines before meets.

The strategy has paid off for Bijak. Last season, she would begin getting nervous the night before a meet. Now, she gets nervous during a meet.

Another sign of success came in Utah’s meet against Michigan on March 22. Bijak was elated when she tied her season-high score on the bars with a 9.90.

“It was the first time that I competed the bars the way I practiced it,” Bijak said.

As Bijak’s ability to keep her anxiety in check improves, so does her ability to speak English. Baskett said that Bijak blends in with the team well despite her German heritage. She still puts strange sentences together, Baskett said, which provides some entertainment for the team.

“Almost because of her little German quirks, she’s more fun to be around,” Baskett said.

Perfect or not, Bijak has played a big role in helping the Utes to where they are as they prepare for regionals next week.

[email protected]

Tyler Cobb

Daria Bijak raises the roof after a stellar dismount.