COLUMBIA — When the Beauty and the Beast event debuted in 2007, the Missouri gymnastics and wrestling teams entered the gym with the male athletes holding hands with the females.
That was the first and last time they would.
The No. 14 Missouri gymnastics team will face New Hampshire starting at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. The No. 17 Tigers wrestling team will start its meet with No. 9 Oklahoma a half hour later. Both teams will be competing simultaneously on the Hearnes Center floor.
Wrestling coach Brian Smith said that the 2007 entrance affected his team’s focus, and ever since, the two teams have entered the gym separately.
“Both sports need to be focused and it was drawing away from that,” Smith said. “I need my guys, especially in the Big 12, to be focused and being in a tunnel with girls doesn’t help. It’s worked out better the last couple years.”
Senior Nick Marable, who is one of three remaining Tiger wrestlers from the original Beauty and the Beast event, said that walking out with the gymnasts that season didn’t bother him.
“It doesn’t really matter for me,” Marable said. “It doesn’t change the way I wrestle. I don’t get focused until about a minute before the match, so none of that stuff bothers me. I’m sure I had glitter on me. They put on tons of makeup and glitter before their meets.”
For the fourth consecutive year, the two teams will host “Beauty and the Beast.”
Despite distractions from the other athletes competing, both teams love having a large crowd on hand.
“It’s a rare opportunity,” gymnastics coach Rob Drass said. “I don’t think there’s anything like it here at Missouri. Almost every other athletic event is strictly one team. You’ve got your gymnastics fans and your wrestling fans, but they’re not always crossover fans, and I think we touch all those fans at once.”
At first glance, the gracefulness of gymnastics and the grappling of wrestling seem to contrasting about as much as two sports can. However, Smith said that the wrestlers and gymnasts are similar because both have to have high levels of body awareness.
“I see those girls and they’re strong girls and what they can do is amazing, so you have to be a good athlete to do both these sports,” Smith said.
Senior Max Askren, a two-time All-American in wrestling and former No. 1 at 184 pounds, said that if he were a gymnast, he would want to compete on the floor.
“Beam seems too dangerous,” Askren said. “Bars would be fun, too. I like the music (of the floor), and how it goes along with the music.”
According to Drass, Beauty and the Beast originated at Boise State University.
“They had some issues with competitive site venues, and they didn’t have the ability to host both at different times, so they put them together,” Drass said. “It was fairly successful there, and we said ‘We do have the venues to do it separately, but what a cool concept.’”
After Drass heard the idea, he suggested it to Smith.
“We weren’t sure how it was going to go, but it drew a huge crowd, and now, I think the community gets excited about it because it is a really cool night,” Smith said. “There’s something for everybody. There’s times during the breaks in the match, I’ll look over and see a girl on the beam and think ‘Damn, that’s pretty good, I couldn’t do that.’”
The gymnasts have gone undefeated in the first three Beauty and the Beast events, while the wrestlers have also found success, going 2-1 in the event’s history.
With two different sports going on at once, there are more people in the stands but also more people on the floor, making it more crammed for the athletes.
“(The wrestlers’ presence) does make it louder,” senior Sarah Shire said. “We hear them, their coaches, yelling and giving them cues. It affects us a little bit, but it’s a good excitement, it’s a good energy. We like having them down there.”
“There’s a bunch of cute girls running around so it does make it a little more difficult to focus,” Askren said. “But I really do enjoy it. To have a big crowd like that is a blast.”
While both Drass and Smith said that one of the challenges to Beauty and the Beast is keeping their athletes focused, they acknowledged that it helps in preparation for the postseason.
“For us, it’s a good tuneup for postseason competition,” Drass said. “To have a competition that’s not just a dual meet back and forth really sets us up. And, there’s lots of distractions in there. It’s good because it teaches us how to focus. It teaches us how to zero in on exactly what we’re doing, not worry about anything else that’s going on. When we get to those meets at a Big 12 Championship, at a Regional Championship, at a National Championship, we’re more prepared to be successful there.”
Smith said that at the NCAA Wrestling Championships, there are eight matches going on at the same time, and this event helps keep his wrestlers focused on their match.
The gymnastics team is coming off its first loss of the season at Nebraska last weekend. The Tigers are looking to rebound at Beauty and the Beast.
This year’s Beauty and the Beast will give fans the opportunity to see a senior class that Smith said could possibly be the best class the program has had. This weekend will be the last at home for the three seniors who have accumulated five All-American titles and an individual national championship.
“All this time, I thought we were the beauty,” Smith said, laughing.