Poster-perfect: Johanson fulfills dream at Huntsman Center
April 13, 2010
SALT LAKE CITY Posters from two gymnastics programs adorn the walls of Amanda Johanson’s room in Park City: the University of Denver, where she is a junior on the nation’s No. 22-ranked team, and the University of Utah, where she longed to perform since she took up the sport at age six.
And while Johanson is thoroughly pleased with her three years at DU, the Utah posters aren’t coming down anytime soon.
"She won’t let us," Orin Johanson said during his daughter’s first-ever performance at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Center for NCAA Regionals on Saturday. "She’s been watching the Utes since she was a baby."
In her final meet of the season, the Park City High School graduate led off on the uneven bars for the Pioneers and garnered a 9.75 to lay the foundation for the team’s season-best score. More poignantly, she was able to fulfill a vision albeit sporting a different shade of red that inspired her through countless hours alone in the gym as a young athlete.
"I’ve always wanted to compete here since I started gymnastics," said a breathless Johanson from the Huntsman Center’s floor. "This is absolutely a dream come true."
Johanson nailed her transitions and showed perfect form on her handstands before landing with just a slight stumble to set the standard for five teammates to follow. In gymnastics, judges’ scores (whether or not they are supposed to) tend to get higher as a team completes its rotation, making it significant to start off with a solid routine that will land a high mark.
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"It’s kind of nerve-wracking going first because you have so much pressure, but it was really good," Johanson said "I’m happy with what I did."
Her performance wound up being counted as one of the team’s top five scores in DU’s tally of 49.125.
Denver finished third overall at the regional competition one of the deepest of six across the United States. The winner, Florida, posted the second-highest regional score in the country, while the runner-up Utes own nine national titles.
Only the top two teams from each regional advance to the NCAA National Championships. The Pioneers’ three other opponents were all ranked with Auburn No. 16, Boise State No. 19 and Washington No. 23.
So, after shedding a few tears over missing nationals, the reality of beating a trio of strong teams and posting their highest score of the season (196.175) set in and left the Pioneers embracing each other with bright smiles.
"I cried a little bit, because we were so close and we wanted to make it so, so bad, but we did our best," Johanson said. "I’m so proud of everything that we did."
Johanson’s parents Orin and mother Aggie sat two rows up from the balance beam in the boisterous Denver cheering section, while other familiar faces were on hand throughout the arena.
Abby Hughes, one of the world’s premier women’s ski jumpers and Johanson’s best friend since kindergarten, came down to give her a hug in the team waiting area.
"We both understand the concept of competition and how important it is to each other," Hughes said.
"I remember in elementary school, she’d teach me things on the bar and I’d go skiing with her. We spent a lot of time growing up together and we’ve been awesome friends."
Hughes recalls that Johanson first spotted by a coach doing 11 pull-ups at the Park City Racquet Club as a 6-year-old would go to the weight room in the morning, then to class, then to the gym, then home for dinner, then back to the gym.
Johanson worked out five days a week in Park City while attending Treasure Mountain International School before she started training at the Olympus School of Gymnastics in Sandy. (Two of her old teammates from that prestigious school Utah’s Fumina Kobayashi and the University of Washington’s Kylie Sharp were at Saturday’s meet, although neither competed.)
She amassed five Utah state championships while balancing high honors at PCHS and tutoring in reading and art to fourth graders. With competition extremely tough for roster spots at the University of Utah, Johanson, an art major, chose to attend Denver for its size (it has less than 5,000 undergraduate students) and proximity to home.
Injuries have hampered her success this past season, limiting her to the uneven bars (besides uneven bars, gymnasts compete in the floor routine, vault and balance beam). Johanson had served as the anchor on floor a spot traditionally reserved for an athlete with the most difficult, highest-scoring routine until a strained hamstring and a sprained ankle caused her to sit it out in 2010.
She even competed on floor at nationals as a freshman when the Pioneers earned a team berth in 2008, and she recorded the team’s second-best score last season.
"Amanda had a slow start to the season with some of the injuries, but she’s really come on strong at the end," said head coach Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart. "She’s just done a great job and shown a tremendous amount of character, enthusiasm and energy. She has one of those personalities you want around."
Next year brings new challenges and goals for Johanson, who will attempt for the first time in college to compete as an all-arounder meaning she’ll take part in all four events and vie for the most prestigious award at each meet. She joins a rotation that had two top-5 regional finishers on Saturday.
"As seniors, if Amanda and her class can step up, that can give us the added depth to challenge for one of those top two spots," Kutcher-Rinehart said.
Fans and friends can follow her progress at http://www.denverpioneers.com.