Handstands are a basic element of gymnastics, even those performed on top of the uneven bars.
A handstand doesn't look scary compared to other big-time gym skills, but for Ute Kyndal Robarts, "Well, it kind of is because, you go over, there's not much you can do about it, so I think you worry about hitting it right on."
There have been times when the talented junior from San Marcos, Texas, couldn't make Utah's all-around lineup because her bars handstands were not straight and strong.
"Every week I was stressed out whether I was going to be in or out," she said as she and her teammates practiced in preparation for the 2010 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships at the University of Florida on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
That activated her competitive nature — which she says she gets from her "feisty" mother, Dawn, who steered Kyndal to Utah in the first place because she rightfully thought her daughter would like performing before Utah's huge crowds and like the coaching staff.
"In my head, if I think someone's going to beat me out of the lineup, I work harder," said Robarts. "It just motivates me.
"It made me work harder, really want to get those handstands, because it wasn't just a matter of if I hit my routine I'd be in the lineup. I had to hit my handstands to be in the lineup," she said.
"We changed the way we did the workouts so that if you didn't hit a handstand, your routines didn't count much, and I think it helped, too, because it made me go for them rather than, 'I just need to get through the routine.' " Despite two bouts with strep throat, Robarts got herself right with the handstands and not only returned to the all-around lineup but became one of Utah's best all-arounders and leaders.
"I just think as the season went on, I got a lot more confident with my routines, which really did allow me to focus on the little details, which were my major deductions throughout the beginning of the season. Being able to know I could hit my routine before I went in helped me do the small details" like handstands, which she calls the "biggest small detail" of all.
Her dramatic all-around performance on a newly sprained ankle when coaches and trainer thought she'd be lucky to do one event, maybe two, in the April 10 NCAA regional at Utah was an inspiration to her team and helped the then-10th-ranked Utes qualify so easily for the national championships that they moved up to the fifth seed for this week.
That performance saw some of the straightest Robarts handstands of her career.
Robarts logged 39.45 in the regional all-around, finishing second in the field of six teams to Florida's sensational freshman Ashanee Dickerson (39.70). Robarts had some difficulty on floor, Utah's first event (as it will be again at the NCAA championships Thursday), and she scored 9.775 with two shaky landings on the ankle. But after that, she vaulted to 9.95, led off Utah's bars with a strong 9.825 and then put up 9.925 on beam.
"I knew my team needed me, so it was really important, especially for this meet," Robarts said. "If it had been a (regular-) season meet, it probably wouldn't have been as big of a deal, but this one was really important. This (meet) more than maybe nationals, too, because we had to make sure we got there (qualified for nationals)."Comment on this story
It was the third time this season that Robarts has gutted out a performance under difficult circumstances. She had two separate bouts with strep, both times leaving coach Greg Marsden wondering if she would even be able to compete. Both times, she went all-around.
As a high school senior, "I hyperextended my knee badly" doing her double Arabian in practice just days before the national Level 10 championship meet. "I couldn't walk all week." But she competed in the meet and did well — "It was my last year of nationals, so I wanted to do well" — though she didn't meet her goal of winning a national title.
"She is tough, and she shows it on a regular basis," said Ute co-coach Megan Marsden. "It was especially nice to witness (in the regional) because she came in when the team needed her most. She helped give the team more confidence."
"Oh, gosh. I don't know what that means," Robarts protested about being called tough. "I really think I get a big adrenaline boost when I go into meets in general; I don't really feel things that bother me. Later, I'm like, 'Ooh, whoa! That hurts.' But I think, at the time, I don't really feel it."