Vault no longer sore spot for U women’s gymnasts

by Susan Filkins

It all happens within a matter of seconds. A gymnast stands at the back of the runway facing the horse, with eyes entrenched on the spring board. She takes off, accelerating as fast as possible before hitting the board with her feet and exploding off the horse with her hands. Hopefully landing on two feet, she raises her arms and it’s over.
Undoubtedly the fastest and most powerful event in women’s gymnastics, the vault has often created problems for Minnesota in the past. This season, it appears those problems are on the mend.
Two good reasons for this are the consistent performances of juniors Stacy Batza and Kim Sveum. Both share Minnesota’s vault record-score of 9.9, making them the best vaulters in Minnesota history.
Sveum, a native of Minot, N.D., recorded a 9.9 twice last season while Batza, from Oxford, Conn., tied her score last weekend in a four-team meet at Massachusetts.
Minnesota also broke its team record on the vault earlier this season against Iowa State. Gophers coach Jim Stephenson said vaulting had been Minnesota’s weakest event. But the team has been improving steadily and is now peaking thanks to the contributions of Sveum and Batza.
“We recruited (Sveum and Batza) with that being the inevitable result of participation,” Stephenson said. “They came here good, and they continue to be successful.”
Sveum said adding freshman Kristi Selinger and Judith Cavazos has made Minnesota’s vaulting the best it has ever been. Batza agreed.
“The people who have been here have stepped up a little bit,” Batza said. “People are doing harder vaults, and we are trying to fix the tiniest little things.”
The vaulting event is all about timing. Success depends on where the gymnasts’ feet hit the board, the height they get from the horse and the judge’s impression of their dismount.
“It is a lot of everything,” Sveum said. “Strength, the run and the flip, and you have to stick the landing to get the high score. It’s just as hard as all the other events; it’s just shorter.”
Both said the mental preparation, as with everything, is a large part of the vault. Sveum said she hears her teammates behind her and is nervous until the judge raises the flag.
Batza said she never watches a teammate vaulting just before herself. She said she is concentrating too much on her own performance.
“It is like you are getting into a complete zone,” Batza said. “You hear things, but it is not clear really. You have to get mad almost.”
Sveum said the vault is a very challenging event, especially when a gymnast can’t be sure where she is going to land.
“I think the vault is a tough event,” Sveum said. “When people watch it, they think, ‘Gosh it is so easy.’ But it is just as hard, if not harder, than the other events because it is quick and blind.”
Sveum and Batza admit they are not out to break their 9.9 record. They both said they are more concerned about the overall team score.
“Your initial feeling is that you did it for the team,” Batza said. “You have that self-satisfaction that you reached a goal, but it’s more that the team did well.”