The Routine of a Lifetime

April 2, 2010

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Official Sports Report, an e-newsletter delivered daily free to fans of the Iowa Hawkeyes. For more information about the OSR, click HERE.

IOWA CITY, IA –The University of Iowa women’s gymnastics team was mid way through its second event at the 2010 Big Ten Championships in Columbus, OH. The same championships that nearly every poll in the nation had the GymHawks picked to finish somewhere in the bottom half.

With a bye in the second rotation, the Hawkeyes found themselves in the middle of the pack going into their second event, not that junior Houry Gebeshian would have known. She would have been somewhere in the tunnel of St. John Arena, iPod in hand and waiting for her name to be called. Not because she isn’t a team player, but because she knows that the only way to help her team out is to do her specific role as best she can.

So that’s what she does. She clears her mind, focuses on her routine, does it to the best of her ability and then does it for three more rotations, just as she has done for the Hawkeyes for three years. This time, however, may very well have been the most important one for the Hawkeyes this season, and quite possibly, of Gebeshian’s decorated career.

What she didn’t know was that a fellow Hawkeye had just slipped on the previous routine. In a sport that’s decided by fractions of an inch, there aren’t too many slip-ups that won’t cost you, especially at the Big Ten Championships. The Hawkeyes needed an inspiring set to get them back on track to finishing where they all knew they could, but many thought they wouldn’t.

This is about the time that Gebeshian was given directions to enter the arena. As if it was meant to be, there was a break in the action of all other events except for Iowa on beam. She stepped up, performed a flawless set and stuck her double-tuck dismount, earning her a perfect score from one judge and three 9.950’s from the other three. Gebeshian had just become only the second GymHawk in school history to win a Big Ten title on beam.

“I was zoned in the entire time,” said Gebeshian. “From the second my routine began, I couldn’t hear anyone, not even my teammates in the corral right next to me. I just did my thing, but once I stuck it, I knew it was the best I had ever done. It was surreal.”

“When she landed and stuck her dismount, it was instant tears to your eyes,” added Head Coach Larissa Libby. “It’s one of those moments that there are no words, but 100 percent emotion.”

The Newton, MA, native ran to her team for high-fives and a team embrace as every gymnast does following her set. The second she saw the emotion pouring from her teammates, she knew she had done her job.

Not only was the 9.950 a career best for Gebeshian, but it led the Hawkeyes to their highest team score of the year in any event with a 49.200.

“It’s always wonderful to see the payoff for all of the athletes, but she’s beaten herself up this year on this event,” said Libby. “She’s thought her beam routine was inconsistent throughout the year and in her eyes, if it’s not perfect, it’s not good enough. She’s a perfectionist. I’m still trying to figure out where they took off the points because it couldn’t have been more perfect.”

Perfect or not, Gebeshian’s routine was enough to spark the GymHawks and help put them back on track for the remainder of the meet. A spark large enough to lead the Hawkeyes to a third place team finish in the championships. A finish they haven’t seen in six years.

“We could have broken in the middle of our beam routine or we could have become a different team,” said Libby. “Houry’s routine changed us and made us a different team that day. It also changed everyone’s opinion in the arena of who Iowa was. The best thing was that it kept up the team’s energy and forced everyone to look at them.”

Gebeshian could have fallen on her beam routine and any Iowa gymnast could have come through just as big for the Hawkeyes. That’s just the way they’re trained. Libby instills a “never die” attitude everyday in the gym.

“The team chose to be successful that night when many things could have stopped them,” said Libby. “A lot of things still went wrong, they just didn’t let it affect them and Houry’s beam routine was the turning point.”

The bottom line is this: Gebeshian stepped up just when her team needed her to. She did what she would have done in any other event: Take off her head phones, step into the arena and pour everything she had into that routine at that moment, unaware of the situation at hand.

“I was just having a really good day and everything panned out great for me personally and for the team,” said Gebeshian. “I think of it as an individual sport as well as a team sport. As long as I can do the things that I do, everyone else will follow suit. I don’t see myself as someone who is super inspirational, so I lead by example.”

Whether it was intended or not, Gebeshian’s example was inspirational enough to lead the Hawkeyes to a team score of 195.575, a season high, and their third NCAA Regional birth in six years. This marks the GymHawks’ 10th regional invitation.

“For this team to finish third at the conference meet with two athletes on the podium and have a Big Ten champion, that’s a miracle in itself,” Libby said. “This is icing on the cake.”

The Hawkeyes will travel to Columbia, MO, for their NCAA Regional April 10. They will be joined by host Missouri, Georgia, Oregon State, Minnesota and North Carolina. The top two teams, along with individual event winners, and the top two all-around competitors (who are not on an advancing team) will continue to the NCAA Championships April 22-24 in Gainesville, FL.

“Right now, we have two more weeks before regionals,” added Gebeshian. “We’re all trying to stay focused and healthy. The best we can ask for is to hit our routines and do the best we can. Everything else will pan out.”

Libby and her GymHawks are well-aware that five exceptional routines will be needed in every event to earn them a trip to Gainesville, but that’s exactly what they’ll strive for. If a career performance is ever needed to keep the Hawkeyes in the hunt, it could come from any Iowa gymnast present that day. The one thing we will know is this: if that opportunity is dealt to Gebeshian again, she’ll walk out of the tunnel without a clue in the world.