It's like a little kid learning to ride a bike. When they are first learning and going really slow, they are all over the place. But when they get their bike going faster, they can go in a straight line. —Megan Marsden
SALT LAKE CITY — To many gymnastics fans, the balance beam is just downright scary. But Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden, a former Ute who was one of the best college gymnasts, believes this fear is simply a misunderstanding about the apparatus that stands 4-feet above the ground.
"I feel strongly that balance beam is one of the simpler events in terms of the actual gymnastics," said Marsden. "I tell the girls, and I believe this, it's relatively simple skills for them. I know the average person doesn't feel this way, but it's not that hard for these gymnasts.
"What changes is when you add in the fans and judges and those types of things. Then it becomes a mind game."
With Utah boasting the No. 1 ranking on beam for a third-straight week, the Red Rocks don't seem to be affected by mind games early in the season.
"I have a tougher group of girls mentally doing my event this year," said Marsden. "Some of the same people on the team as last year, but mentally tougher this year. Cortni (Beers) and Stephanie (McAllister) continued to improve, and Kyndal (Robarts) showed strength from beginning on the event so my seniors are great leaders. The younger gymnasts are doing a nice job in approaching the event the same every week and not getting rattled by opponents."
Ute fans were able to enjoy the top two ranked beam teams last Friday in Utah's win over Georgia.
This week, No. 1 Utah begins a two-week road swing, beginning Sunday at No. 25 Arizona State. Marsden laughs because she remembers traveling to ASU when she competed and distinctly recalls the students yelling "fall, fall, fall …" throughout her beam routine and indeed she fell as they got into her head.
The event is always tougher on the road admits Marsden because at home you know your beam and get to do your routine to the music you've selected. On the road, you don't always get your own beam music and you face the distractions of the crowd and judges. But Marsden believes this year's group is able to put the distractions aside and enjoy the event.
Marsden is hoping fans will also start enjoying the beam more, rather than stressing out about it.
"I do hear from fans that they hate that event the most," said Marsden. "I don't know why everybody gets so worried about that event. There are other events to worry about more than beam."
Someone who seems as nervous as anyone during beam is fellow head coach Greg Marsden, who typically leaves the floor during the event.
"The events equally make me nervous, but with vault I'm spotting and talking with the girls so I become less nervous as we go. Floor is the same thing. With beam, I don't want to be a distraction since it's Megan's event so I stay away, but it makes me more nervous to not be involved. I'm also becoming more nervous on bars because I have less and less of a role as Tom (Farden) has really taken over. I totally trust Tom and Megan with their events," said Greg. "I just am having a harder time watching."
Greg suggests the same route for any fans nervous about the beam.
"They should get up and go walk around the concourse and then come back," Greg laughed. "This is what Megan's father used to do — he never watched her on beam because he was too nervous."
As for helping fans learn more about the beam, the Marsdens often use a metaphor.
"It's like a little kid learning to ride a bike. When they are first learning and going really slow, they are all over the place. But when they get their bike going faster, they can go in a straight line," said Megan.
"The keys to beam are stacking your vertebrae straight and getting your bike going."