Before Kristen Kenoyer enrolled at the University of Utah in the fall of 1989, she was an international-class gymnast who didn't really like to compete on balance beam, the sport's great equalizer. "I used to wobble all over the place," says Kenoyer. "I hated beam."
Ute coaches Greg and Megan Marsden were surprised to discover that. With their trained eyes, they saw a gymnast perfectly suited to excel on balance beam, an athlete with exceptional line and spatial awareness.Greg told Kenoyer beam would soon be her best event.
"She has an uncanny feeling about the space above the beam," says Megan, a former NCAA all-around champion whose favorite event was beam. Megan says when she worked on the beam she worked in an imaginary tunnel that kept her in line, and she says Kenoyer has that same kind of ability. "She can be off a little and pull it back. I was surprised she didn't use it in club (gymnastics)," Megan says.
It was, in Kenoyer's mind, all in the explanation. "In club, they expected you to do it, but they didn't tell you how. I got so nervous," Kenoyer says.
"Greg and Megan taught me how to be confident. Not different technique, just constant reminders to be aggressive."Megan says college gymnasts are intelligent enough to understand it when their coaches explain a skill, step by step, so that's what's done.
To Kenoyer, it made all the difference.
"I don't know if it's my favorite event, but I like competing it now," says Kenoyer, who has been Utah's most consistent beam worker this season with only one score out of 12 below 9.7 and a team-high three 9.9s including one at the WAC Championships and one in the NCAA Midwest Regional.
"I would say she has our best line; it comes the most naturally to her," says Megan.
Because she has become so steady on beam, and because she's worked on what she perceives as her other weakness, vault - Greg Marsden says she has no weaknesses - Kenoyer, a sophomore from Whitefield, Maine, has been one of the nation's top collegiate all-arounders for more than a year.
She finished third in the all-around at the 1990 NCAA Championships, helping Utah gain its seventh national team title but first since 1986, and this season she won the WAC all-around title and tied for second behind teammate Missy Marlowe at the regional. She's been ranked in the top three all season.
Friday night at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Kenoyer will join teammates Marlowe and Shelly Schaerrer in a chase for the NCAA all-around championship at the NCAA finals. Perhaps eight women from five schools have designs on that individual title, making this one of the closest races ever.
Uppermost in the Utes' minds that night, however, will be defending their team crown as they go into the meet as the No. 2 seed, based mainly on regional totals, after being far and away the best team in the nation throughout the regular season. Host Alabama is the top seed with Oregon State and Georgia standing third and fourth.
While talent is there in ample measure and explanation opened new doors for Kenoyer on beam, Greg Marsden says she's also one of his "hardest-working, most self-motivated" gymnasts.
She was the first on the team to learn two different 10.0-value vaults, even though she says vaulting is the one event not on a par with her others. Many gymnasts use 9.9-value vaults, and very few have two different vaults because that's not required, except in the NCAA individual-event finals night after the team and all-around titles are already decided.
Marsden wanted each gymnast to have two different vaults to give a varied look. Kenoyer was the first to comply.
"My perception is that she is in it for the right reasons," Marsden says, meaning that Kenoyer is a gymnast to please herself, not to get individual glory. She, in fact, dodges the spotlight almost like the Jazz's John Stockton.
"I don't like it at all," says Kenoyer, who then laughs at herself. "I don't care if I get my picture in the paper."
Kenoyer also admits she had no Olympic ambitions, even thought she competed in the 1988 Olympic Trials at Salt Lake City. "I just wanted to be an elite, not make the national team. My goal was never to make the Olympic team, so I wasn't disappointed. For me, it was more important to go to school, to college," she says.
"She's one of the most well-rounded people I've ever had in the program," says Marsden. "She's really in control of her personal life."
Against advice from those who knew how hard it would be, Kenoyer turned into a biology major last fall, wanting to get into some sort of medicine or perhaps pharmacology. "I'd be bored if I was in something else," she says. "I always seem to have to have some pressure in my life."