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Sunday April 21, 2013 Gymnastics Extra: Gators inspired by Beyoncé, Faehn's full circle, King's birthday, plus more tidbits

Florida gymnastics leotards

The Gators sparkled in more ways than one at the NCAA Championships.

LOS ANGELES -- The Gators gymnastics team finally turned the Big Four into the Fab Five here at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday night.

Florida became the fifth school to win an NCAA women's gymnastics national championship, joining UCLA, Georgia, Alabama and Utah. The Gators reached the sport's pinnacle in their 31st trip to the NCAA Championships.

That wasn't the only long wait that came to end for Florida.

You may have noticed the Gators sparkled. Literally.

The Gators wore a Beyoncé-inspired leotard that featured 2,400 Swarovski crystals and designed by Gators coach Rhonda Faehn.

"That was a long time in the making,'' Faehn said. "We found a picture of Beyoncé on the Internet on the red carpet wearing a midnight blue mesh, sweetheart neckline. It was so gorgeous. I was like, 'we have to have this leotard.' We kind of filtered it through the girls because they get to design a few sets and I design two sets."

Faehn tested the design with junior Mackenzie Caquatto first. She liked it. Soon, others bought in and a plan was put in motion to order the leotards for a special occasion. The Super Six fit the bit and the Gators debuted their new threads Saturday.

The leotard featured white sleeves and shoulders and a blue bottom with the word "Florida" printed in white above the right hip.

As she talked about the leotard afterward, Faehn beamed with pride at her design.

"Gross amounts" of crystals,'' she said. "It was just spectacular."

You may see them again. Since the Gators won the national title -- which includes a ring -- there is already talk of another Beyoncé-inspired design in the works. The same leotard but with a ring on it -- hint: Beyoncé's huge hit song, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)."

To the victor go the spoils.

FULL CIRCLE

Faehn didn't want to talk much about her connection to UCLA, site of this year's NCAA Championships, leading up to the event. She preferred the focus be on the Gators instead of her return to Westwood, where she competed for the Bruins from 1990-92 and earned a history degree in 1994.

But after the confetti fell and the pictures were taken and the hugs shared, Faehn (in photo with assistants Robert Ladanyi and Adrian Burde) made sure to look up into the stands to wave goodbye to one of the last people in the stands Saturday night.

Rhonda Faehn

Jerry Tomlinson recruited Faehn, a Minnesota native, to move west for college. Tomlinson coached Faehn for only one season but they remain close and Tomlinson organized UCLA alumni to come watch this week's Super Six.

Faehn's Gators won the title while the host Bruins finished fourth.

"It was really special," Faehn said of winning in front of her former coach and some former teammates. "That was really nice to see that. I kind of came full circle."

Faehn also heard from a pioneer in Florida gymnastics, former coach Ernestine Weaver Russell. After the meet, Russell called to congratulate Faehn for elevating Florida's program to a national title. Russell served as the Gators' coach from 1980-92, including the program's transition into the NCAA starting with the 1981-82 season.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Senior Marissa King capped her career with the Gators on Sunday by finishing sixth in the individual floor finals and seventh on the beam.

The 2011 NCAA vault champion probably won't remember much from Sunday's action. She has been beaming on Twitter since celebrating her 22nd birthday on Saturday by helping the Gators claim the national title.

King and Faehn

Gators coach Rhonda Faehn hugs senior Marissa King.

"I'm never going to forget this day,'' King said. "I couldn't be more happier than now."

King's performance was clutch Saturday, perhaps nowhere more than on beam when she steadied the Gators with a spectacular 9.925 routine after two Florida falls in the rotation. King then nailed a 9.950 on floor, scored a 9.900 on vault and a 9.875 on bars..

Faehn recalled King's focus for her final season when the two met in the preseason.

"It's going to be a blowout year,'' Faehn said King told her. "She was in the gym every day."

King was right. Not a bad way to celebrate a birthday or end a career.

Kytra Hunter

QUOTE OF NOTE I

"My teammates helped me out a lot. I was really down. I knew I could stick that routine. They did cheer me up. We just came out and rocked floor." -- Gators senior Ashanee Dickerson on what transpired after her fall on beam

QUOTE OF NOTE II

"I want to do this every single year I'm here baby." -- Freshman Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto on winning the national title in her first season

QUOTE OF NOTE III

"It's about how you finish, and I know how to finish strong.'' -- Sophomore Kytra Hunter (photo, left) on rebounding from her fall on beam, including a 9.975 on floor

GYM NUGGETS

With Florida's win, here is how the five programs to win national titles rank in the event's 32-year history: 1. Georgia 10; 2. Utah 9; T3. Alabama, UCLA 6; 5. Florida 1 ... Alaina Johnson became the first UF gymnast to win the NCAA title on bars Sunday ... Freshman Bridget Sloan won the beam title Sunday to go along with the NCAA all-around title she captured Friday ... During their stay in Los Angeles, the Gators stayed across the street from the practice facility of the Los Angeles Clippers.

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