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Utah Utes gymnastics: Bijak's creativity not paying off, yet

By Linda Hamilton

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, March 6 2009 1:53 a.m. MST

Utah coach Greg Marsden believes some judges are scoring junior Daria Bijak's creative bars routines too low.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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Utah gymnastics coach Greg Marsden and his program are just plain frustrated with the way junior Daria Bijak's routines are scored.

Frustrated. And resigned.

Bijak's gymnastics are so different from what everyone else in collegiate gymnastics does that Marsden says some judges aren't sure what they're seeing and don't reward her for the difficulty she's performing. Yet they seem to dock her extra for small errors.

"You can't avoid it. You can't be perfect," said Bijak, who keeps a good attitude and just keeps forging on, according to associate head coach Megan Marsden. "It's just how I deal with the mistakes."

Greg Marsden talked recently with his two-time German Olympian, who was eighth all-around at the 2005 World Championships, and told her disappointing scores shouldn't compromise her skills or her enjoyment of the sport. " 'You'd like to be rewarded like everyone else,' " he said he told her, " 'but if you're doing bigger gymnastics and different gymnastics than anyone else, and you feel good about what you're doing and I feel good about what you're doing, we're not going to change things.

" 'We're not going to water things down and do the same old thing that everyone else is doing just so you can score a little higher.' "

Bijak, however, is refining where she can.

Tonight at 7, when second-ranked Utah (9-1) meets No. 27 Arizona State (2-5) in the Huntsman Center, she is expected to display not only an upgraded tumbling pass but also the polishing work she's put in over the last two weeks. Utah is coming off a bye week.

Marsden also told Bijak, " 'So much of your stuff is done bigger, with more amplitude and more dynamics, and you don't seem to be rewarded for that.

" 'Yet they seem to pick you apart. Because you do different types of skills, if your legs are apart a little bit, they really deduct for those kinds of things, yet they never reward you for the things you do so much better than everybody else.' "

A major irritation is Bijak's last skill before her dismount from bars. A few judges have rewarded her for it with three 9.925s this season, but most confuse her pirouette Higgins to an inverted grip for just a giant with a half-turn and deduct because they think she does it late. But a Higgins is done late.

Coaches cannot speak to judges, but Megan Marsden has put in inquiries to learn what deductions are taken, and some judges have actually written that the late giant half is one of them.

An inverted grip is a bonus, but it is more common in men's gymnastics, and Greg Marsden doesn't think many judges even notice.

"I feel like it's because the judges don't know what they're looking at," he said.

Other deductions are understandable, such as steps, or the way she "cowboys" somersaults — common to many gymnasts.

She's tinkering. She's trying to do the Higgins quicker, trying to avoid steps.

"The mistakes that I do," said Bijak, "they are little, but they are obvious, and I could cover them up better, and that's how I can get the higher scores. Sometimes I take a step and don't dance out of it, and that's how they deduct me."

Another Bijak problem is her need to perform quickly after warmups. She gets cold waiting. Her vault is difficult, but judges don't always recognize it with her being first in the lineup, and they often score her as a weaker competitor. On floor, Marsden uses her third, so she has a little better chance.

The last routine Bijak did, in fact, was a 9.90 on floor, her second of the season in that event. That had her feeling better.

"Well, of course, I would love to get 9.90 everywhere and all the time," Bijak said. "It makes me really happy when I see a 9.90 because I've been working really hard."

Greg Marsden can't wait for the postseason with regard to Bijak because judges for regionals and nationals are generally more knowledgeable, helping her cause.

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