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Utah Utes gymnastics: U.'s Bijak is bound for Olympic games

Published: Wednesday, June 11 2008 12:06 a.m. MDT

After finishing fourth in the all-around at her country's national gymnastics championships on Saturday in Chemnitz, Germany, University of Utah gymnast Daria Bijak was informed Tuesday morning that she has made the German Olympic team for the Beijing Games in August.

"I could tell she was excited, thrilled, dream-come-true, and now she wants to stay healthy and get there (to Beijing) and be on the (competition) floor," said Ute coach Greg Marsden, who spoke to Bijak on Tuesday morning after she'd been informed she made the team.

Bijak joins other Ute Olympic team members like Cheryl Weatherstone (Great Britain 1984), Missy Marlowe (USA 1988) and current teammate Gael Mackie (Canada 2004).

"She was excited. The last time she had this opportunity, that the German team qualified as a team, she was injured, ruptured her Achilles and didn't get to be on the team," Marsden said.

"It's been a roller coaster ride," he added, as Bijak has had several injuries that hampered her both in college and while she was competing on the international scene before she came to Utah. She was eighth all-around in the 2005 World Championships, 20th in 2003 and is a two-time German national all-around champion.

But Germany did not qualify as a team for the Olympics in 2004, and in 2000, Bijak missed the Olympics with the Achilles problem.

She's had knee and ankle problems since joining the Utes — she just finished her sophomore season — and on Utah's advice, she took last summer off from her national team to heal.

"You never know what that's going to do to you athletically but also politically," Marsden said.

The top three all-arounders from Saturday's German championships automatically qualified for the Olympic team, but there was a process to determine the next three team members.

"The fact that she's training here and competing for a university, you just don't know how that's all going to play out when you go back and try to reinsert yourself into their process," said Marsden.

As soon as the NCAA Championships at Georgia were finished in late April, Bijak returned to the Ute gym and began reworking her routines to upgrade them for international competition, which has more difficult requirements. She returned to Germany a few weeks later and continued to upgrade. Marsden said that, assuming she stays healthy, she will likely keep adding to her routines in preparation for the start of the Olympics on Aug. 8.

She is expected to return to Utah for her junior season, but Marsden said she may miss the first few days of school due to the Olympics, and he will have to give her time to recover physically and mentally after going nonstop since last summer.

"We just hope she's healthy at the end of it and can take a little time off and get excited about the college season," he said.

In her national championships Saturday, Bijak scored 56.30 for fourth in the all-around, .30 out of third place. She was fourth on beam, bars and vault and sixth on floor.

"She did a great job. She hit all four events in their championships. I talked to her after the meet, and she was excited about that, and she's thrilled now," Marsden said.

In the 2008 NCAA Championships at Georgia April 24-27, Bijak was 16th in the all-around.


E-mail: lham@desnews.com

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