Brad Rock: Utes have eyes on gym title

Published: Friday, Feb. 6 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

There's a goofy picture in this year's gymnastics media guide of Utah coach Greg Marsden in 1973, when he was still in college. His arms are outstretched as though making a pass on the horizontal bar.

A mustache and dark hair — not to mention a nifty tank top — make him look a bit like Tom Selleck in his "Magnum P.I." days.

OK, so styles change.

Yet here it is, 2009, and Marsden still thinks winning championships is, well, stylish.

"Right now," he said, "we're working to be perfect."

You would think after 34 years as the first and only coach in the program's history, being ranked No. 1 — as the Utes are this week — would get old. But apparently you'd be wrong.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say it's more fun being No. 1 than not being No. 1," he said, "but at the same time you realize it only counts at the ending."

Oh, right.

That.

The part that needs tweaking.

"The last three years we've finished second, second, second," said Marsden. "Second stinks."

It would be hard to find a more successful coach or program than those at Utah. The Utes have more wins than any school and more national championships (10). They hold every major attendance record.

Marsden's first championship came in 1981, when women's gymnastics were part of the AIAW.

At the same time, there's that little problem of winning it all — now — which is a bit like criticizing "Casablanca" because it's in black and white. The Utes have finished first or second 18 times and have more all-America awards (292) than anyone.

It's just that it has been nearly 14 years since Utah won the national title. Last time the Utes walked away with the trophy, Pierce Brosnan was debuting as the new Bond and DVDs were just catching on.

This is no secret to Marsden, whose Utes meet tonight with BYU, SUU and Texas Woman's University at the Huntsman Center.

On the one hand, he says he's happy with his team's progress and results. On the other hand, there's no substitute for old-fashioned, game-day discontent.

"There's a time to have perspective and a time not to have perspective," he said.

A time to be cool and a time to get crazy.

Utah hasn't been ranked this high in four years.

Time to be cool AND crazy.

It's no secret what the Utes must do to get there: dog Georgia.

Or rather, dawg Georgia.

The Bulldogs have been the Utes' nemesis, winning nine championships, including the last four. Utah had a chance to land a psychological blow earlier this season in Athens, but lost 197.150-196.725, thanks to a slip on the balance beam. Now, with the Utes in the No. 1 spot, it could be another Utah-Georgia showdown again in this year's championships.

Which raises the question: Are the Dawgs in the Utes heads?

"We've seen UCLA (win), Georgia (loss) and Oregon State (win) this year, and they'll all probably be at nationals," said Marsden. "We feel we're every bit as good as any of them. Maybe better."

Although injuries sidetracked Utah's chances to win championships in the early part of the decade, that died down in recent years. Now it's a matter of sticking routines, which is exactly what senior Kristina Baskett — who has six individual wins this season — has done.

Meanwhile, Marsden and associate head coach/wife Megan just keep trying to get over the hurdle.

Marsden says he has no intention of backing off.

"People ask me when I'm going to retire," he said. "I don't golf, I don't fish. I don't really have anything else. It's (gymnastics) still the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing I think about at night."

In between?

He thinks about it then, too.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com

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