There's something marvelous about watching the best.

In anything.One doesn't have to be a particular fan of a sport or even have much knowledge about it to appreciate greatness.

Non-skiers were able to thrill to the dramatic downhill run of Austria's Franz Klammer at the Winter Olympics in 1976. The 22-year-old Klammer faced the pressure of a host nation demanding nothing less than a gold medal as he sped down the slopes at Innsbruck. That he nearly fell made the winning effort all the more dramatic as did the animated descriptions by Frank Gifford and Bob Beattie.

Salt Lake City has had opportunities to experience this type of athletic greatness - like in 1979 when the Final Four was held at the Special Events Center and the championship game featured an Indiana State team led by an intriguing forward named Larry Bird against the razzle-dazzle Michigan State Spartans that featured the king of razzle-dazzle, Earvin Johnson, the Magic Man.

And one didn't have to be an expert to enjoy the National Figure Skating Championships that came to Salt Lake in 1984, when Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano, Rosalynn Sumner, Debi Thomas and Peter and Kitty Carruthers heated the Salt Palace ice with their stunning array of double and triple axles.

Now, another group of performers with the label best is here - the gymnasts.

Starting tonight and continuing through Saturday, the best gymnasts in America will vie for the opportunity to become the best gymnasts in the world. It will be a level of gymnastic performance rarely seen in Utah - the Russian National Team and the U.S. Team gave Utahns a glimmer of what to expect during an exhibition last year in Cedar City. A gymnastics sophistication has developed in Utah because of the success of the University of Utah's women's gymnastics team, which under the direction of Greg Marsden has won six national championships.

There's perhaps more than the usual drama surrounding an Olympic trials, due in part to the off-mat controversies involving the United States Gymnastics Federation.

There is plenty, though, to focus on in the athletic arena. There's the Tim Daggett story. One of two holdovers - the other being Scott Johnson - from the 1984 gold medal-winning men's team, Daggett not only has to fight his competitors but himself as well. His left leg, which was badly broken last October, doesn't want him to do what he's about to do to it tonight. Time is not on Tim Daggett's side just as it wasn't on hurdler Greg Foster's as he tried to make the Olympic team with a broken arm at the track and field trials two weeks ago.

And what will happen with Kristie Phillips? She's gone from being the next Mary Lou to being just one of many gymnasts vying for the six Olympic berths for women. Based on her performance at the Championships of the USA in Houston, which accounts for 40 percent of the effort to determine the Olympic team, she's ninth going into Thursday's competition.

Plus, there are some athletes with local connections competing. One is Oklahoma's Kelly Garrison-Steves, who has performed in the NCAA championships at the University of Utah. She's in second place.

And one of Salt Lake's own, Missy Marlowe, is seeking to join fellow Utahns Henry Marsh, Doug Padilla, Ed Eyestone and archery prodigy Denise Parker as an Olympian. In 11th after the Houston competition, she's just .14 of a point from sixth.

Then there's the longshot men's team candidate out of BYU, Bob Gauthier.

It's a sports feast well worth gorging oneself on.