SALT LAKE CITY — Missy Marlowe understands why some may shudder at the hot pink leotards that Utah wore in 1990.
But for the Olympian, the gaudy uniforms were a lot more than a ’90s fashion statement.
“I didn’t feel bad about the pink ones because what those leotards mean was that our coach believed in us,” said Marlowe, who talked about the color the Utah gymnastics team wore during her sophomore season when it won a seventh national championship as part of a panel discussion that followed the premiere of a new documentary that looks at the birth and success of the Red Rocks. “Greg (Marsden) wasn’t afraid to put us front and center, and he wasn’t afraid to say, ‘I want you guys to stand out more than anybody else.' And when your coach does that, you believe it. When you believe it, you achieve it. … It’s very empowering as an athlete.”
In fact, Marsden often came up with unusual, sometimes controversial, leotards for his team to wear during his 40 years at the helm of the program. The gymnasts didn’t always love his choice of colors or style, but they loved the statement they made as they consistently stood out.
“We were never afraid of standing out because we know that our coach believed in us that much,” Marlowe told the audience that attended a special screening of the film, "Utah Gymnastics: Red Rock Retrospective," produced by KUED’s Joe Prokop.
Marsden sat on the panel with his wife, Megan Marsen, who is the team’s current co-head coach along with Tom Farden, and Anne Marie Jensen, who ran the meets and was a co-conspirator in how to turn the meets into top-notch entertainment.
The film is billed as a retrospective of the team, but the truth is that the Red Rocks wouldn’t exist as they do today without the guidance and vision of Greg Marsden. He called Prokop out during the panel discussion, recounting how the filmmaker convinced him to participate in the documentary by telling him it would focus on the team.
“Joe, you lied to me,” Greg Marsden said to laughter.
And it’s a good thing he did, because the film details what most Red Rocks fans long suspected — without Marsden’s efforts, the team may not have become one of the most successful in NCAA history with record-setting crowd support.
Prokop tells the story of the program through the athletes who built it alongside the Marsdens.
Greg Marsden was a graduate student teaching at the U. when administrators were trying to create varsity sports for women in order to comply with the recently passed Title lX legislation.
“I was teaching life-saving, handball, winter survival and gymnastics,” said Marsden, a former diver who began taking gymnastics in college to help him with his diving. “I just happened to be here when they needed to start some varsity teams for women.”
That was fortunate for all involved, as Marsden’s desire to see the women earn the same kind of support — with fans and the media — that men’s sports enjoyed created a number of pillars upon which the program was built.
“I’m not a genius,” he said in reference to several comments from his athletes about his coaching and leadership. “I’m a thief. I tried to look around at the common threads at other sports that were successful in attendance and tried to identify some of those things I could apply to gymnastics. Then I tried to build a good product.”
He did so by winning 10 national titles and guiding the Red Rocks to every single NCAA national championship ever held. Utah is the only team to qualify for every national championship. His record, when he retired in 2015, was 1,048-208-8.
Marsden worked with Jensen, the floor director of Utah gymnastics meets, to create an experience that was “fast-moving, entertaining and something the crowd could feel like they could make a difference in the outcome.”
Jensen described how she made the sport exciting for fans and a television audience, and then added, “All the things that happen behind the scenes, you don’t want to know about. You just want to see our beautiful gymnasts.”
And what does it mean that Utah owns just about every attendance record possible?
“The crowd is a direct correlation to how much someone wants to watch you,” Marlowe said, “and how much they appreciate you.”
Megan Marsden said some of her favorite moments are watching other teams' coaches and gymnasts basking in the appreciation of Utah’s 15,000-plus raucous fans.3 comments on this story
“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love to come to Utah,” Marlow said, noting Utah fans cheer any good performance, not just the Red Rocks.
Megan Marsden was asked to recount a favorite moment or season, and she said she couldn’t.
“There are too many wonderful moments,” she said. “There are goose-bump moments every year. … That’s why I’m still doing this.”
The film will air on KUED Monday, Feb. 11, at 8 p.m.; Friday, Feb. 15, 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 17, 4 p.m. It’s also available at KUED.org.