ALL SALT LAKE CITY'S Melissa Marlowe has to do to make the six-woman U.S. Olympic gymnastics team is be perfect eight times next week.
She goes into the Olympic trials at the Salt Palace Thursday in 11th place, and though the difference in scores is tiny, probably only perfection for eight routines will do it for her.
"It has to be an awesome meet. That's all there is to it," she says. "It's really anyone's game still. No one's out of it, and no one's secure."
At Rocky Mountain Gymnastics in Murray, Marlowe has spent the past couple of weeks being perfect 40 times a day. Each day, Coach Mark Lee makes her complete 10 of each of her four routines without even the hint of a wobble or concentration break.
But will that be enough?
She admits, "It's a skill in itself to be able to compete the way you work out."
Perhaps it was actually good that Marlowe stumbled two weeks ago in Houston at the Championships of the USA. A fall from beam left her standing 11th, with that score counting 40 percent and the Olympic trials counting 60 percent toward Olympic team membership.
She'd breezed past the same competition in the American Classic meet in Phoenix in April. "She won too easily," says Lee. "It wasn't a challenge. She might have gotten complacent."
The Houston meet, he says, "was an eye opener." Lee and Marlowe came home knowing there was work to be done.
"It made me angry," Marlowe said of the fall she'd had on balance beam in the optional round. "It was stupid. I won't make that mistake again. You can't make a mistake like that and make the Olympics."
This is a new and aggressive Marlowe talking, one who is ready to meet the biggest challenge of her career head-on. "I'm looking forward to it," she says. "The difference between now and two years ago is unbelievable. I used to get sick before every meet. Now I feel much more in control and much better about competing.
"Meets don't scare me any more."
Marlowe, who will turn 17 next month, has for several years been one of the country's top three or four female gymnasts despite her insecurities. For the past two years, she has worked with University of Utah's Dr. Keith Henschen, the sports psychologist who's helped the Lady Utes to their six national collegiate titles.
"It's partly because I'm older and partly because of the harder workouts," Marlowe says, explaining her new inner calm, "but it's mostly because of Keith Henschen."
"Most of it's come from her," Henschen says. He says he uses certain "triggers' with her prior to meets and has used "rational therapy - why would you want to feel this way?" to cope with her anxiety.
"I'm impressed with the way she's handling it now," he says of the coming meet.
She is impressed enough with what he's done for her to be considering sports psychology as a career. At other times, she has wanted to be an architecht and a nutritionist.
"She's right where she wants to be," Henschen says. "She's looking forward to it."
Indeed she is. "Right now, workouts are so hard, I would love a meet," Marlowe laughs, knowing she'd never have said that a few years ago, when she would have cringed at the thought of having a the biggest meet of her life - so far - in front of people she knows.
Now, she says, "I'm very glad it's in Utah. It's something I've been picturing a long time, ever since I heard the trials would be here."
Familiarity with the Salt Palace and the people running the event may help her, she says. "I think about it a lot, trying to get myself used to it so I'll be ready. I've been there enough," she says.
Lee hopes for a wildly pro-Marlowe crowd. "They need to let the officials know Missy belongs on the team," he says. Lee contends that the Houston crowd two weeks ago helped the hometown Karolyi gym land five gymnasts in the Olympic trials.
Still, for Marlowe, it will probably come down to perfection in four compulsory and four optional routines next week.
"I have real mixed emotions," she says. "On the one hand, I can't believe it's here. It's been such a long-term goal, and now it's so close I can't believe it.
"And, on the other hand, after my workouts, I say, `Thank goodness it's so close. I'm sick of it."' says Marlowe.
"But it's almost over, and I can crank out the last month and a half under any circumstances."