Before it became apparent to a very young Missy Marlowe that she had the potential to be an Olympian, her goals centered on someday being a University of Utah gymnast. When she entered the U. three months after the Olympics, still burned out, she wasn't sure she'd be able to care as much as she once did.
"I wouldn't say I was awful, but I was so far away," Marlowe remembers, grimacing. "I wasn't ready to make the commitment."After a summer of refocusing, the desire returned. She made great strides her sophomore season. "I was right on the edge but not really, really on," she says. She was good enough to help Utah win the NCAA title again for the first time since 1986.
Last summer brought more determination. Marlowe realized she had only two seasons left in a sport that made her an international figure, two more seasons to be a member of a team she'd always wanted to be part of.
"I'm not going to go out with any regrets," she declared.
"She's like a person possessed," marvels Ute Coach Greg Marsden. "There's something burning inside of her that she's got to resolve."
Marlowe told her father, Tim, "I want to have the school record in every event; I want to be remembered for a while." She accomplished that.
"Now I want scores that will be hard to beat," she says.
Tens can never be beaten.
"That's the point," Marlowe says with a smile and two 10.0s to her credit in this, her junior year.
Marlowe earned another Deseret News Athlete of the Month award for a February that included her first career 10.0 score, on uneven bars Feb. 11; a 9.9 on balance beam that was, in effect, a perfect score since that's what value the judges allowed her routine (it's since been changed to start at 10.0); and an NCAA-record all-around total of 39.5 (Feb. 2).
Since February's a short month, let's include that second 10, too, the first anybody in NCAA women's gymnastics has ever gotten on the road, and her 39.45, the highest NCAA road all-around score ever. They came March 2 at Cal-Fullerton - within the 30 days most months have. Marlowe is the first college woman to have scored 10 twice.
"A 10 doesn't mean you're a great gymnast all-around," says Marlowe. "That's why the 39.5 and 39.45 mean so much."
There is probably more Marlowe magic on the way: "The 10 was a big thing for her," Marsden says.
"I only got it on bars," she says.
"I think she'd like to win the (NCAA) all-around," he says.
"I want to go out being on top of the game," she says. "There's plenty of motivation."
Lest anyone get the wrong impression, Marsden interjects that Marlowe's success does not come at his other gymnasts' expense. "She's very much a team player," he says.
She credits teammates for making her better. "Just being around people who are still striving makes a difference," she says. "It's real easy to get lazy, but everyone else is learning all the time."
Marlowe has benefited most from a teamwide effort to look more elegant. Utah's always had the clean look, but now, especially on bars, there's a drive to spruce up even more.
Explains assistant Jim Stephenson, the bar coach, "One thing Missy's done well is just the basic swing. We've improved our technique so it looks like we swing bigger, and Missy's been the best at that. She likes to swing big."
Stephenson says improved technique makes it easier to swing "with fewer breaks in body line."
And he says most Utes have changed to the more-difficult, more-impressive undergrip - palms facing toward the gymnast during swings - "and that's another area where Missy excells," he says.
An international-class athlete who's still determined even after the Olympics and who's still willing to learn tedious things like technique as well as new skills is a combination "that separates her from everyone else," Stephenson says.
It's probably why she was good enough to leave the judges at Fullerton no choice but to award her that history-making road 10.
Marsden says one judge looked at the other and mouthed the words, "I don't have any deductions," apparently intimidated by that. "In their minds, nothing's perfect," Marsden says. "They shrugged their shoulders and looked at each other. I said, `Give it to her."'
And they did.
"The Olympics will always be best," says Marlowe, "but a close second are the 10s."
They produced as much local adulation as did her comeback at the 1988 Olympic Trials in the Salt Palace, when she made the biggest move of any athlete in the men's or women's competition, coming from 11th place to finish sixth and earn a berth on the '88 Olympic team.
She came home from Seoul, Korea, without a medal but with the knowledge that she'd been part of the American team's medal-caliber performance. The Americans lost the bronze by .3 because of a politically motivated .5 deduction. After Kelly Garrison-Steves mounted the beam, Rhonda Faehn pulled the beatboard out of the way but remained on the raised podium, a little-known infraction that the East Germans caught and that cost Marlowe and the others a medal.
The 10s help make up for that and let her know her gymnastics is about equal to what it once was.
"I was surprised how much attention it drew," Marlowe says of her first 10. "People came up in stores and wanted autographs, they'd write notes and put them on my car. It was about the same, maybe a little more, than after the Olympics.
"It never gets old," Marlowe says. "You can't not appreciate all of it."