MU gymnasts focus on balance beam

Thursday, February 12, 2009 | 8:14 p.m. CST; updated 9:55 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 12, 2009
MU junior, Sarah Shire, works on the balance beam during practice on Thursday, February 12, 2009, at the Hearnes Center. During practice, assistant coach Amy Smith blared loud music and shouted chants at the girls while they practiced to prepare them for Friday's noisy meet.

COLUMBIA — Aside from a gasp after a gymnast falls or a quick cheer, Hearnes Center is dead silent when Missouri’s gymnastics team competes on the balance beam during meets.

Performing on the beam requires more focus than maybe any other event in gymnastics. How well gymnasts concentrate often determines the quality of their routines.

Next match

No. 17 Illinois at No. 13 Missouri
Third-annual Beauty and the Beast competition

When: Friday, Feb. 12 at 6:30 p.m.
Missouri wrestling match against Central Michigan begins at 7 p.m.

Where: Hearnes Center

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But tonight, Missouri’s gymnasts won’t have the place to themselves. MU’s gymnastics and wrestling teams will compete side-by-side in the third annual Beauty and the Beast meet. Missouri’s No. 13 gymnastics squad faces No. 17 Illinois at 6:30.

When gymnasts are on the balance beam, they will have to put up with all sorts of noises from wrestlers and the crowd. Assistant coach Amy Smith, who coaches MU’s gymnasts on the balance beam, prepared the Tigers for the unusual environment in practice this week.

While gymnasts practiced on beam, Smith blasted loud music and yelled distracting comments to prepare the team for the meet’s atmosphere.

“She has a distraction CD,” freshman Allie Heizelman said. “She’ll play it while the girls are on beam. It helps to block out things that don’t really matter.”

Heizelman, one of Missouri’s most consistent performers on the uneven bars, said the CD has different cheers and chants that fans might yell during the meet.

The balance beam has been Missouri's worst event this season. The first time they competed against Illinois on Jan. 31 in a quad-meet at Ohio State, the Tigers were having a solid meet but scored a season-low 48.275 on the balance beam in their final event. Despite the poor finish, Missouri won the meet, and Illinois finished second.

Missouri ranks ahead of Illinois in every event except balance beam. The Fighting Illini rank No. 9 in the nation on beam. Missouri’s best event is the floor exercise, in which the Tigers rank No. 11 nationally.

Tonight will be Illinois' first appearance in the Beauty and the Beast meet. More than 6,000 fans have attended the meet in each of its first two years, MU’s highest-attended meet each season. The noise can throw gymnasts off.

“When it’s quieter and there’s not as many fans, it’s easier to stay focused,” Heizelman said. “…(When it’s loud), it’s harder to stay focused and it’s harder to control your nervous energy.”

But junior all-arounder Sarah Shire said the meet’s atmosphere is often beneficial.

“It’s good to feed off of the energy because you can see the wrestlers when they do something good and the crowd gets excited,” Shire said.

Shire said Missouri would like to score a 196 team total. The Tigers missed the mark by one-fourth of a point a week ago when they posted their season-high in a win against SEMO.

But Shire said the team isn’t as concerned with its score as being content with its performance.

“We want to walk away with a satisfied feeling…I don’t think we’ve had a meet where we’ve really had that satisfaction feeling,” Shire said.

The meet has a few format changes this year. The gymnastics meet will begin at 6:30 p.m., while the wrestlers will start at 7 p.m. Missouri and Illinois will also alternate routines to try to make both meets finish at the same time. Last year, the gymnastics meet ended well before the wrestling match.

Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children, but fans who bring two canned food items for the Central Missouri Food Bank will receive free admission.

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