Gabriella Onodi

Gabriella Onodi speaks with some pleasure about perhaps being able to perform on the uneven bars in the near future.

She had hoped it would be tonight when the University of Utah gymnastics team holds its first home meet in three weeks, with Minnesota in the Huntsman Center at 7, but the illness that has bothered her for two-plus weeks worsened, and she may be out of the meet.

Second-ranked Utah is 7-0, its best start since 1999, and No. 20 Minnesota is 8-1.

Once Onodi is ready to perform on bars, coach Greg Marsden said it will likely only be in exhibition so he can see how judges react to her spiffed-up routine.

But that she has gotten that far on that event is miles from where anyone thought she would be a couple of years ago when Marsden gave the former member of the Hungarian national team and two-time World Championships competitor an ultimatum to improve her effort or lose her scholarship.

Last season, she was voted the Utes' most-improved. Then she spent last summer in Hungary working with her club coaches, taking another step toward the point where Marsden says she can legitimately be thought of as an all-around possibility.

Onodi, a senior, is coming off the best balance beam routine she's done in four years as a Ute last Saturday at Michigan. It scored 9.85, her season-best. It was .025 behind her career high, but that was done under the old, looser scoring rules, and she, Marsden and beam coach Megan Marsden all agree last Saturday's routine was her finest.

It would have scored better, Megan Marsden says, if Onodi weren't Utah's leadoff hitter. It's a most-important but somewhat-thankless job because the first one up needs to set a steady tone for teammates — falls in that event are contagious — but the better scores go to those late in the lineup, after judges have seen everyone else. Onodi's score was just .015 off that of teammate Ashley Postell's, and Postell was 2002 World Championships beam champion.

"Just did new leaps," Onodi said.

She hasn't done a straddle-leap since 1998, when the move made her hip hurt, but she finally tried it again at Megan Marsden's urging because more difficult leap combinations are required for a good score under the new code.

It was a similar story on bars. She had junked a release move because she didn't do it cleanly.

"But I realized I will never make bars lineup without that," she said. "I'm like, 'I really have to do that,' and am paying more attention to the executions."

Now it's back in, and she hopes to do it Friday.

An illness she's fought for a couple weeks makes training harder, but Onodi overcomes it most of the time because, "As soon as I start moving, 'Oh, I love to do this.' "

It wasn't always so. Onodi arrived in Utah on Christmas night following the 2002 World Championships, and the language barrier/culture change, late start and what Marsden saw as "an attitude" kept her from feeling part of the team.

"I wasn't a good friend with the rest of the team, so I kind of felt lonely, and it was much more fun being outside the gym — which wasn't that good," she says.

"The second year, I realized that, 'Hey, it's fun being on the team,' so I started to compete a little bit," she said. "Then I experienced how much fun that was, so every time I come here, the girls, we are having fun together."

Still, the coach laid down the law, and she accepted the challenge.

"I needed time to figure out how things worked here, to go to school and then come (to practice). I find out it is so much fun being on the floor and being part of the team," she says.

German imports Angelika Schatton (1997-2000), now married and a full-time mom living in Salt Lake City, and current fifth-year senior Gritt Hofmann had similar transition issues and became trusted parts of the team, as has "Gabi," who has competed in three events this season.

"I decided I wanted to be a good gymnast," she says. "I wanted to be at least in two or three events, wanted to be someone who (was) helping the team and compete week by week."

Onodi also challenged herself by majoring in communication, hoping to become a sports writer in her second language. She might even stay in the U.S. to pursue that career if the opportunity comes up.