To watch Kristina Baskett effortlessly swinging on uneven bars, or confidently gliding across the balance beam, or joyfully playing to the big University of Utah gymnastics crowds on the floor exercise mat, no one would ever realize she once hated performing.
"I love competing now. In club gymnastics, it was one of my least favorite things about gymnastics was competing. Now, I love it," said the Ute junior who is the No. 2 all-arounder behind record-setting senior Ashley Postell, and who tied for the NCAA uneven bars championship when she was a freshman.
Quick to flash genuine smiles, Baskett seems so self-assured, whether she's competing or working in practice or doing interviews or just meeting people.
But in her club career, "I was just like a mess," she said.
She tried doing the elite scene, but she was the only one in her Puget Sound Gymnastics club near Seattle who was at that level.
"When I was in elite, I was by myself all the time. I traveled by myself, I competed by myself, I worked out by myself, so I love competing with a team," Baskett said about being in college.
"I always envied those teams like WOGA, Nina's gym," Baskett said of Ute teammate Nina Kim's club, World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in Texas, "where they had like eight elites there, and they were friends, and I was always by myself, just a little new girl.
"I did OK when I was in elite and had a lot of talent, but I was just kind of not well put together."
Baskett returned to the Junior Olympic level and was happier. She and her parents and club coaches had made an effort to keep her in a regular school, rather than home schooling, to give her a more normal life. She wanted to go to football games and do things with friends, and the JO level helped her do that, as well as allowing her to have the success she needed.
"When I was elite, I wasn't that successful. I just didn't have my confidence. Competing with the hotshots in elite, I was kinda just there," she said.
She wasn't that self-assured when she got to Utah, either.
She recalls sitting in the gym as a freshman with coach Greg Marsden watching video of herself on bars. "I remember asking Greg if I would even make the lineup on bars, and then I end up winning (in the NCAAs months later). That's crazy," she said.
"I was like, 'Do I have a chance of making bars lineup?' And he was like, 'Yeah, you kidding?' Kind of like, 'Of course.'
"And I was like, 'Oh, OK,' and I felt dumb," Baskett says, laughing at what's transpired since.
"I was so bad on bars," she said, telling how when Utah competed at the University of Washington earlier this season, one of her club coaches got to the meet late and missed her on bars (she scored 9.90 to win the event). After the meet, Baskett's former coach told her, "I still need to see with my own eyes that you won bars."
"I was like, 'Well, you have to imagine it.' And she was like, 'I don't even think I can use my imagination."'
As for her head coach in club, "He would always tell me, 'You are so good on bars, you're so talented, you're a great bar worker,' and I never believed it because I had never been successful on it," she said. "So he knew what I didn't know because of my lack of confidence. He tried as much as he could, but it was all in my head."
Once she got to college, Marsden reinforced what her club coach had tried to tell her, and, "The team has helped me a lot, just being around kids that are good because I was the only one at my gym close to that level," she said.
She soon realized she belonged, and she's had nothing but success since with three All-American awards from her first two NCAA finals appearances, the bars co-championship and a current ranking of No. 7 in the all-around (39.405 Regional Qualifying Score). She is No. 5 in the bars rankings and is No. 6 in the vault.
She has scored as high as 39.70 in the all-around, with a 2008 high of 39.65, and she has a career-best vault of 9.975 this season as well as a career-best of 9.925 on floor this season. Her bars high is 9.95, and she's had two 9.925s this season. On beam, her career best is 9.90, and she's hit 9.875 in 2008."It just built my confidence a lot coming here because I've become more successful in my routines and just in practice, and it's become a lot more fun," Baskett said.
Red Rocks on the road
No. 3 Utah at No. 4 Michigan