Dazzling finals performances
April 24, 2010
By Paul D. Bowker , Special to NCAA.com
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Nearly perfect. And perfectly finished.
Susan Jackson of Louisiana State, the last person to compete in the final event of Saturday night`s individual finals of the 2010 NCAA Division I Women`s Gymnastics Championships, nailed a 9.9625 on the balance beam to win a national championship.
As soon as she somersaulted off the beam and stuck the landing, she smiled to acknowledge the cheering at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center and ran up to LSU Coach D-D Breaux for a career-ending hug.
"It was probably the most perfect routine I've done in my life," Jackson said.
Jackson's performance finished off a memorable week for the All-America senior, whose Southeastern Conference Gymnast of the Year season led the Tigers into the national semifinals Thursday. She won the all-around competition Thursday with a score 39.625, and Saturday placed second on the vault and fourth on the uneven parallel bars.
"Susan's been this kind of athlete for four years. She's just an athlete," Breaux said.
Jackson was one of two 2009 national runner-ups to win titles. Stanford's Carly Janiga, runner-up on the bars last year, won the event Saturday with a score of 9.9375, edging out Summer Hubbard of LSU. She became the second national championship in Stanford women's gymnastics' history, and the first in 16 years.
"I knew this was my last routine on bars ever," said Janiga, "so I wasn't nervous and was just going out there to enjoy gymnastics, which is what I fell in love with as a kid."
"An absolute rock for our team...," said Stanford coach Kristen Smyth. "She is going to be impossible to replace because she has been such a privilege to work with."
UCLA, which won its sixth national title Friday night, scooped up another couple of trophies in the individual finals. Vanessa Zamarripa, a sophomore, won the vault with a score of 9.9250 and Brittani McCullough, a nursing student whose 12-hour hospital shifts in clinic work limited her recent training to three hours per week, won the floor exercise with a 9.9375.
"This is just a blessing. It's very exciting," McCullough said.
The two individual championships capped off a week in which UCLA returned to national gymnastics' prominence in impressive fashion. The Bruins were absent from the national field the last two years and hadn't won an NCAA title since 2004. They didn't have a gymnast finish higher than fifth place in the individual finals last year.
While SEC gymnasts dominated the 2009 championships, including Georgia's fifth consecutive team title, the Pacific-10 Conference struck back this weekend. Only Jackson's win on the beam prevented a Pac-10 sweep in the team and individual events.
In the post-event news conference, UCLA coach Valorie Kondos Field complimented Jackson.
"You represent all the student-athletes here so beautifully. You're such a class act," Kondos Field said.
Jackson, one of just two gymnasts who qualified for three events in the individual finals (Casey Jo Magee of Arkansas was the other), continued a strong LSU gymnastics tradition that has included four individual national championships in five years. Jackson won the vault in 2008 and Ashleigh Clare-Kearney won the vault in 2009, her senior season, and tied for first place in the floor exercise (2009).
But none of those could have matched the dramatic fashion of Saturday's win. Courtney McCool of Georgia, a member of the 2009 national championship team, was the leader in the beam until Janiga performed ninth and Jackson, 10th. Janiga scored 9.8875 to tie McCool.
Meanwhile, Jackson paced outside. Not just outside the competition area. Outside.
"I don't like to watch people (perform) before me," Jackson said. "I go out into the hallway, not even in the arena, to find someplace quiet."
When she returned, all Jackson did was score the 9.9625, which was not only the highest score of the individual finals, but the highest score of three days of competition.
"Coming into NCAAs, she came to grips with what her mission was, what she wanted to do and how she wanted to go out," Breaux said. "I can't be more proud of the job she has done."
Although she didn`t win an event, Arkansas' Magee, who qualified in three events, placed fourth on the balance beam, fifth on the bars and 12th in the floor exercise.
Florida, the host team, had three top 5 finishes: Marissa King, who placed fourth in the vault and fifth in the floor exercise, and Maranda Smith, who overcame a shoulder injury to place fifth on the bars.