Utah Ute gymnast Daria Bijak finding her success by trying not to think about it

Published: Wednesday, March 17 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah all-around winner Daria Bijak as the University of Utah wins a four-way gymnastics meet with Oregon State, Penn State and Southern Utah University.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Ute senior gymnast Daria Bijak finally accomplished a career-long goal last Friday night — really sticking her vault in front of the Huntsman Center crowd.

She says it's because she fell on the vault in the final warmups, "So I didn't think about trying to stick in the meet. I tried to get on my feet. I didn't think about trying to do a perfect landing."

So she did exactly that.

She attributed her strong all-around performances in the last two meets (39.425 vs. Nebraska and a career-high 39.575 in Friday's quad meet) to having been sick because that meant she just tried to get through the routines rather than do them perfectly.

"I guess that's what I need, like not to think about it and just trying to do it no matter what the outcome is," she said Monday at practice.

"When I feel good, then I think my expectations are too high. I want it so bad. I want to do what I can do in practice and in the warmups, but I tend to be too tense.

"I cannot control it. I cannot not want it," she said, laughing at her dilemma. "It's not like I just figured it out. It's how I've been my whole life."

With just a few more chances left in her career, starting Friday at Florida, Ute coaches hope Bijak can finally get her thoughts under control and do as they've been trying to tell her all along.

"If she just relaxes and will do what she can do, she's just an unbelievable athlete," said coach Greg Marsden. "It's when she tries to be perfect, she gets in her own way a little."

Adds co-coach Megan Marsden, "We're trying to get her to approach meets the same way (as practices), but she'll be the first one to tell you, 'Oh, but that's different.' And we're saying, 'No, we don't want it to be.' We keep talking, 'Train like you want to compete and compete like you train.' They should be interchangeable, but Daria has a hard time picturing that because the meet to her is everything."

NUMBER ONE: Former Ute Sarah Shire is the country's leading all-arounder. Now a senior at Missouri — which is in her hometown of Columbia — Shire this week took over atop the NCAA all-around rankings with a regional qualifying score of 39.570, slightly better than the 39.555 of LSU's Susan Jackson, who led last week with the same RQS.

She spent her freshman year as a specialist at Utah on beam and vault, scoring highs of 9.90 in each event, but she was not happy at Utah and was granted a release the following summer, allowing her to enroll and compete immediately at Missouri.

While the Utes could certainly use the scores that Shire is posting, Ute coaches say they have no regrets about letting her go and that they're pleased for her.

"I'm really happy for Sarah," said Greg Marsden. "She's gotten progressively better, and she's the athlete everyone knew that she was and could be.

"I think it was the right decision for her. At the time, she wasn't happy here, and who knows if she would have or could have accomplished the same kinds of things (at Utah). No one can say.

"From our perspective, there were no hard feelings when she left, and we're sincerely happy that she's doing as well as she is.

"You've got to give the coaching staff there, and the environment there, and Sarah all the credit for what's happened."

Adds Megan Marsden, "I don't think of it as, 'Oh, look what we missed out on.' We knew that she was capable of that. That's why we recruited her.

The top programs were fighting over her, and we were fortunate to get her, but it just didn't pan out. I think Missouri was a better fit and closer to home for Sarah."

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