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Brad Rock: Marsden still has one goal: winning

Published: Friday, Jan. 20 2006 12:00 p.m. MST

If Greg and Megan Marsden were nervous, it would be hard to prove. At least if repeatedly tossing a Frisbee to their dog inside the Dumke Gymnastics Center was any indication.

You might think Thursday was an afternoon in the park, not the day before the Utes' first home meet of the season. Until you actually talked to Greg. He's the hyper one in the family. Thirty-one years as Utah's gymnastics coach and he still gets jumpy as show time approaches.

"Before any meet, home or away, my stomach's probably turning over more than any of the athletes', because they can at least get out there and perform," said Greg, as he watched his wife playing fetch with Zoey the Wonder Dog. "I've got to stand there and watch it all go down."

Or watch it all come down, depending on how things go.

The third-ranked Utes open their home season tonight at the Huntsman Center against No. 6 Nebraska. At some schools, tonight's meet is just the first at home. But for the 2-0 Utes, it's another step down their own glory road. Like Duke basketball, Florida State football and Steven Spielberg films, finishing first is always the goal for Utah — and usually a viable option.

Thus, asked if he had ever resolved that being good is good enough, Marsden flatly said: "No."

After a pause, he continued, "We've been at the top. That's what the expectation is and it's what we expect of ourselves and what the fans expect of us. We want to be there and win. We haven't done it in 10 years.

"We came closer last year (third), and if we stay healthy, we have a shot this year."

So there you have it. The non-news story of the year: Marsden wants to win it all.

That has to rank up there with "Utah votes Republican" on the list of "duh" headlines.

Amazingly, as much success as the Utes have had, they haven't won a national championship since 1995.

Suddenly it's 2006 and Marsden is thinking, yeah, it's time. It's not as though the program has been in a tailspin. Since Utah claimed its last title, the Utes have finished third, seventh, fourth, seventh, second, fifth, fourth, sixth, sixth and third.

The football team should be so fortunate.

But, as Marsden said, the expectations are there and he's not dodging them. That's why in their practice facility, the banners list only national championships, not regional wins or even second-place national finishes.

The term "aim high" isn't just a slogan around Utah gymnastics; it's an order.

Consequently, Marsden makes no apologies for getting keyed up. During the season he goes to bed around midnight and gets up at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., fussing about whether he's done enough.

"I was probably less nervous when I started, because I was just a goofy graduate student and thought I'd be doing this for a year or two and then I'd be out. So I really didn't care much then.

"Now," he added, "my career's on the line."

Come again? Ten national championships and the guy's losing sleep because he hasn't won another?

Isn't that like Garth Brooks fussing over one more CMA award?

At any rate, that's where the Utes are and where they plan to stay — aiming high. Though Megan, Greg's wife and associate head coach, calls the feeling of nervousness something else ("a good excitement"), their objective is the same. She was a gymnast for the Utes during their first four championship years (1981-84).

"Because I've experienced it, for (the athletes) I want to win a championship," she said. "It's a different experience than second or third. I want them to experience it and feel the hard work has paid off. So for them, I still feel the ultimate goal is the championship. And I think it's more difficult than it's ever been."

Is she talking about sleeping or winning?


E-mail: rock@desnews.com

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