The University of Utah's two senior women gymnasts, Lynne Lederer and Cheryl Weatherstone, aren't experiencing the same anxieties and pressures that past Lady Ute seniors felt the week before the national championships. And it's not because they are the only two Ute seniors in the 1980s to not be defending national champions.
Sure, they both say, "Just let me get through the next week," before making them think about spending the rest of their lives without gymnastics, but they don't have the melancholy streak most seniors before them felt, and they don't feel the pressure to be leaders that other seniors felt.Part of it is because Coach Greg Marsden made a change in philosophy last summer. The Lady Utes had always been so encouraged to be team-oriented that was once a strength was becoming a liability. "It became an excuse for why an individaul didn't accept responsibility. It became a crutch," Marsden says.
He began to encourage the Utes to use inner strength instead of using each other so much, and that has relieved some of the need for upperclass leadership. "So much of the burden has not fallen on their shoulders, and it's easier for everyone," he says.
"In the past, a lot of expectation was dumped on the seniors they have enough to go through," he adds, talking about the prospects of finding jobs and starting a life without that daily routine. Many professional athletes crack when faced with retirement, and they're older and better prepared than kids just out of school.
"We really worked on that," Marsden says. "You can't base your whole career on one last thing. They both had great careers and contributed to the program, and this should be something they enjoy."
"Oh yeah, we might as well have fun doing it," Lederer says.
The philosophy change seems to have worked. Weatherstone, sitting calmly (unusual for a gymnast) on the Huntsman Center floor, says, "This meet doesn't decide what kind of person you are or what kind of gymnast you are. It's kind of a tribute to what we've been doing for 10 or 12 (`or 18,' says Lederer) years."
If Weatherstone should make a mistake in a routine Friday, she says, "I'll be upset for about 30 seconds I'm allowed that and then I'll get to the things at hand and continue."
They both say this team is so full of talented young people there's not much need for leadership. "I tried to do that early in the year, but it screwed me up," Lederer laughs. "As people, we're there for each other, but not as a senior."
"We're all one," agrees Weatherstone. "I don't think I need to step out."
Lederer had one last long talk with Marsden about a week ago. She was in tears, he said, because she felt she'd let the team down this season. Because of a chronic back problem, she can't work out the way she'd like. The violent arching from vaulting is the worst. Her high this season on bars is 8.65 she's scored a whole point above that twice in her career. She has scored 9.55s on beam (tying a career high) and floor exercise but is pretty much held to those two events. Last April, she finished fourth in the NCAA all-around.
Marsden told her a lot of women would have given up and not competed at all. He told her that her biggest accomplishment, the one he's most proud of, is that she will graduate this spring. Marsden said Lederer only entered college to keep her gymnastics career going, but gradually, she became more involved with school and now will not only get a degree but is talking about going to graduate school.
"I always cut myself down instead of looking back and seeing what I've accomplished," says Lederer, now apparently more comfortable with her role as her final meet approaches. "I'm excited to look back, and I'm excited to move on."
Lederer is an intern for the school's community services counseling program and works with problem kids. She wants to stick around and earn a master's in social work. She doesn't tell the kids she works with that she's a gymnast because she doesn't want to make them uncomfortable, although some know who she is and are Ute fans.
Weatherstone plans to be married in three months and also wants to get into physical therapy school. After seeing 1987 senior Tina Hermann sweat out pre-admission interviews and testing the week before nationals, Weatherstone has held off applying.
Weatherstone went through a slump last season and came back fireed with determination only to have a frustratingly slow start. In the High Country Athletic Conference finals March 26, she turned in a career-high 37.80 all-around score and placed second in her only all-around performance of the season. "Weatherstone is back," she declared. She won't go all-around this week but has a shot at doing three events bars, floor and vault. "I have a lot more confidence in her now because I know she has a lot more confidence in herself," Marsden says.
Both Weatherstone and Lederer are comfortable enough about this week to say they're glad it's their last meet and not their first nationals all over again. "I was totally lost. I was scared and didn't know what to expect," recalls Lederer.
"It's scary in that it is nationals, and it will be decided in 1 1/2 or two hours, but the next day, the sun will come up and we'll all get up and go to class," Weatherstone says.
"I look back at the year as a whole," says Lederer. "That's why I'm not threatened."
"That's why I'm sitting here looking calm," Weatherstone adds.