This wasn”t the usual women”s gymnastics meet.
One glance at Michigan”s Elise Ray”s beaming face as she grabbed former Olympic teammate Jamie Dantzscher of UCLA following the Bruins” win was all it took to see that.
“I”ve been looking forward to this meet for so long,” Ray said. “When I first heard that they were coming, I was really excited.”
While Friday night”s meet between No. 8 Michigan and top-ranked UCLA was important on the national gymnastics picture, it paled in comparison to the real reason there was added excitement in the air. The meet reunited three 2000 U.S. Olympians Ray of Michigan with Dantzscher and Kristen Maloney of UCLA.
And while UCLA came away with a close 197.700-197.125 victory, it seemed apparent that the three ex-teammates were content with being together again.
“It was just really good to see her,” Dantzscher said of Ray. “It”s kind of weird competing against her after the Olympics, being on a different team than her.”
Maloney agreed: “It was really exciting just to be able to compete with her again.”
The Sydney Olympics ended in late September, giving the three athletes very little break before they began school and training for the collegiate gymnastics season that started in January.
It has been a difficult schedule for the gymnasts to maintain.
“It”s been hard for them to compete as much as they have,” UCLA coach Valorie Kondos Field said of the former Olympians. “They”re kind of working past it and getting that connection again. That was really something that everybody needed.”
The addition of Ray to the Michigan team has amplified interest among fans in the program to an extent that it has not seen in the past.
Bringing together Ray with Dantzscher and Maloney for Friday”s meet raised that interest even more, bringing a Michigan regular season record crowd of 3,864 and another swarm of media attention that the gymnasts haven”t had to deal with since leaving Sydney.
It would have been easy to lose focus, but none of the gymnasts appeared to do so.
“I think she”s used to it,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki of the attention paid to Ray. “With the Olympics, I”m sure she had cameras in her face and reporters with every different angle for the last year, so I wouldn”t think that this would have distracted her.”
The fact that so much attention was paid to the Olympians overshadowed, to an extent, the fact that UCLA is the best team in the country. With that in mind, it”s entirely possible that Michigan and UCLA will meet up again, with slightly higher stakes the national championship.
“We haven”t hit our peak meet yet and we want to peak at the right time,” Dantzscher said. “But I think, right now, we”re the team to beat.”
Still, the evening”s competition took a backseat to the gathering of Ray, Dantzcher and Maloney. For one night at least, winning was definitely not the only thing.
“We”re not supposed to watch each other, but I couldn”t help it,” Ray said. “It just made it a lot more fun having them here.”