Kelly Garrison-Steves had been prepared for all the turmoil and hometown favoritism that visiting gymnasts encountered in the Championships of the USA in Houston two weeks ago.
What she wasn't ready for was being No. 1.Just before her compulsory beam routine in Houston, it was announced that the 21-year-old Oklahoman was the leader so far in the overall competition. She promptly blew the routine and scored 9.45.
"It kind of rattled me," says Garrison-Steves, the Sooner senior who has won two straight NCAA all-around championships in meets held at the University of Utah, but wasn't sure she could be among the leaders in Olympic-level competition, although she was a member of last year's World Championship and Pan Am Games teams.
"I guess I just lost concentration - beam is my best event," she says as she awaits this week's U.S. Olympic trials in the Salt Palace. "I let it get to me and became overconfident."
Garrison-Steves, however, came back to win the optional balance beam competition at the Championships, scoring 9.9 to beat 9.8s by Phoebe Mills and Kristie Phillips of Bela Karolyi's powerful Houston stable, and her total score of 77.32 for compulsories and optionals put her in second place coming into the trials. She made the finals in three of the four events in Houston and won the individual-event balance beam gold medal.
The Championships score counts 40 percent and the trials score counts 60 percent toward making the six-woman Olympic team that will be decided Saturday afternoon in the Palace.
That she is behind only Mills in the standings surprises both Garrison-Steves and her coach, Becky Buwick.
"The goal was to be in the top nine, to be in there close," says Buwick.
"I was surprised because I hadn't competed with them for so long," Garrison-Steves says. It is rare for female gymnasts, who usually peak in their teens, to be able to compete at both the international and in college, where there are no compulsories and requirements are different. To excel at both is almost unheard of, and to do it while being married makes Garrison-Steves even more unique.
She says that, in the past few weeks, she's let husband Mark do all the work at the gym where they both teach, and she's stayed home "cleaning and sleeping."
With the trials so close, "I'm excited," Garrison-Steves says. "I'm trying not to be overconfident and not to take (being second) for
granted. It's still really close. I didn't realize how close it was until after the meet." Her performances this week will be "all out, pretty much," rather than safe enough to protect the score she already has. "The main thing is to be consistent," she says.
For the most part, she was consistent in Houston, where the crowd actively pulled for Karolyi's hometown performers and shunned outsiders. "I tried to not get involved with it," Garrison-Steves said. "I wanted to do what I was there to do, and I achieved that."
"We play environmental scenarios," says Buwick, who worked with Garrison-Steves on shutting out the distractions that also included coaches bickering over which one should be Olympic coach when the Olympic coach was named and approved in March.
Now, Buwick and Garrison-Steves have almost the opposite scenario. There will still be arguing among coaches, but the Salt Palace crowd is expected to consider Garrison-Steves as almost a hometown favorite because she's competed many times at the U. and been popular with that crowd.
"It's a second home for me," says Garrison-Steves. "I really look forward to competing in Utah and Salt Lake City. The crowd there knows so much about gymnastics from the Utah team, and because I've competed there so often, they know me."
"The Houston crowd," says Buwick, "is not as educated as the Salt Lake people. In Salt Lake, if you do a good performance, you get applause, no matter who you are. You feel comfortable coming into Salt Lake, whether Greg Marsden's (Utah) team is going to murder yours or not."
Garrison-Steves, the oldest female still in the running, has been a national team member for nine years and has been on two World Championship teams. She won the balance beam and finished third all-around in the 1987 Pan Am Games. She has competed in Holland, China, Switzerland, West Germany, Canada and Hungary. She was 11th at the 1984 Olympic trials.