SALT LAKE CITY — Nansy Damianova's mother was just hoping to keep her energetic toddler from ruining her furniture when she enrolled the preschooler in tumbling classes near their Montreal home.
"When I was 2-and-a-half apparently I used to jump on my parents' bed," said the University of Utah junior with a slight smile. "My mom didn't want me to break her bed, and we lived close to a sports center that had a lot of trampolines."
That facility, Gymnix, became the place the shy, soft-spoken junior found her purpose and passion.
"I guess since then I've loved it," she said. "My parents never pressured me, I pursued it more on my own."
She very quickly developed into a graceful athlete, who actually never aspired to college gymnastics. She represented Canada in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and it wasn't until letters and emails from Utah's co-head coaches, Megan and Greg Marsden, came to her coaches on a regular basis that she began investigating what it might mean to use the sport she loved to earn an education.
"I definitely think I made the right choice," said Damianova, the only child of Titomir Damianov and Sophia Tsvetkova, who left their home in Bulgaria when it was in the grips of communism to make a home in Canada. "We have everything possible for us to succeed, just a little bit of everything. Utah is just a great place for school and training."
As a freshman her grace and beauty on floor made her an immediate fan favorite. But her one fall that season was during the only event in which, two years later, she doesn't compete: the beam.
"The one thing that hurts her is balance beam," said Greg Marsden. "It's a tough event for her, kind of an Achilles heel."
While the best gymnasts always hope to compete in the all-around, her issues on beam have kept her from pursuing that same goal.
"She should be in our beam line-up," he said. "It's a mental block kind of thing. She doesn't have a series that she can hit consistently, with confidence and aggression. It's really a tragedy in some ways because she's beautiful on that event."
In fact, it is her execution that prompted the Marsdens to pursue Damianova.
"She is a beautiful athlete," he said. "Her execution is incredible. That's why she's been one of our fan favorites all the way through. And she's about ready to really blossom as one of our top competitors."
That evolution was likely sped up by the loss of co-captain and reigning Pac-12 all-around champion Corrie Lothrop after she ruptured her Achilles tendon during the meet against Arizona State on Feb. 1.
Damianova knew that she alone could not fill the void left by Lothrop's absence, but she did consider how some smaller contributions might help the team take a few steps toward recovering from the loss of one of its most consistently high-scoring gymnasts.
"I think we were more worried about it when it happened," Damianova said. "But then we trained for a week, and we gained confidence. We saw that we were actually able, even though we lost her big scores, we were able to target around what she was doing and have girls who could personally improve."
She was one of those gymnasts.
"I thought where I could improve most was on my landings on vault," she said. "And also on bars, I thought I could step it up by on a handstand, keeping my feet together, making sure my toes were pointed, little things like that."
Last week against California those little things added up to a victory for the junior on bars and a tie with teammate Tory Wilson for third on floor. Each athlete's small contribution to better gymnastics resulted in the highest team score of the season for Utah.
Damianova said she was inspired by Wilson's perfect 10 on vault, which was their first event.
"We were so happy just because she's been training so hard and finally the judges agreed to give her a 10," she said. "It just made it a lot more fun, and it did fire up the whole team."
In fact, it continues to inspire the gymnasts.
"We didn't think it was possible for us," said the 21-year-old, who has never scored a 10 in competition. "But now that Tory made it, it gives us all hope that we could maybe get a 10 as well."
Damianova said she not only wants to continue to polish the routines she's already competing in, but she wants to break into the beam line-up and compete as an all-around gymnast.
Greg Marsden is confident that she can.
"It's up to her now," he said. "She's got to decide it's important enough for her to overcome her fear with that."
However, even if she just continues to contribute in three events, her responsibility increases with her success.
"She came into this season more prepared, more determined to contribute at a higher level," he said. "She has just been building. She did a great job the other night, and probably had one of her best meets of the season. Her importance has increased, and you've already begun to see her later and later in our line-ups. She's much more dependable this year in terms of consistency."
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No. 6 Utah vs. No. 23 Washington
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