Chan vaults to top of the heap
It is rare for a freshman to step right in and become a key performer on a collegiate gymnastics squad.
It is rarer still for that gymnast to qualify for a national meet, be the leader of an event going into the final day’s competition, and keep his or her composure well enough to give a winning performance on the final day.
Tiffany Chan, who hails from Nevada City, fits the aforementioned description.
Chan, in her first year performing as a gymnast at the University of California at Davis, cracked the starting line-up, became an important piece of the team’s success, then went on to capture the NCAA Division-I (AA) 2002 Collegiate National Gymnastic Championship floor exercise title in April.
Chan, ranked fourth going into the national championship, finished third as a team.
“My team was really, really happy because freshman don’t do that very often,” Chan said. “My goal going in was the same as it is for every meet: to do the best I can, represent my school, and do it for my team, just like in practice.”
Chan, who had been nursing a strained foot since February, captured the title in Springfield, Mass., by performing to music from the soundtrack to “Zorro.” The injury did not distract from her concentration, nor did the pressure felt by someone who has already surpassed the expectation for that season.
“I definitely felt it while competing in nationals,” Chan said. “You have to go in with the mind set of mind over matter. Female gymnasts only last until their early 20s, so at the collegiate level a lot of girls are really hurt.”
The first day of competition, Chan scored a 9.925, using a routine that includes a double back-flip. The second day, feeling somewhat tired after a full day competition, Chan scored a 9.9, one of four 9.9 scores she received during the course of her inaugural season. Chan was the first freshman at Davis to score 9.9 in any event as a freshman.
“The third day, it was kind of like, this is my event, so let’s show it off” said Chan, who was atop the leader board.
Chan’s third and last 90-second performance in the finals was strong enough to win something that she hardly expected at season’s start.
“I tried to stay pretty confident about the meet, but as a team we were just going there to have fun,” Chan said. “Making it to the individual finals was great, because I wasn’t going in expecting anything.”
Tiffany’s older sister, Allison, also is a gymnast at UC Davis. Last year, she had a strong season, not falling off her specialty – the beam – once, another rarity. Tiffany credits Allison for some of her success, going back to their childhoods when Tiffany would watch her older sister in gymnastics program, waiting for her turn to be old enough to participate.
Tiffany was introduced to gymnastics at the age of 3, and has spent time performing as a member of both Stellar Gymnastics and Rising Starz.
Before graduating as the 2001 class valedictorian from Nevada Union High School, Tiffany took a recruiting trip to Davis. After watching Allison perform at Davis for two years, Tiffany felt as if she already belonged there.
In January, Chan learned that she would be penciled in as a starter for the first meet of the season. With team usually building their line-up to save the best for last at meets, Tiffany started off in the fourth spot before two gymnasts who had earned All-American honors the previous year.
But when Chan began to outscore her teammates, coach Ray Goldbar decided to shuffle the line-up so that she went later in the meets. Chan, who had to adjust to the collegiate rigors of 31/2-hour practices, in addition to cardiovascular and conditioning work, adjusted to her new role quickly.
“I was really surprised,” Chan said. “I was thinking at first that maybe it would cause some conflict, but the girls were really supportive. A lot of our team is about doing what is best for the team.”
Chan, who plans to focus on biological sciences at Davis, plans to spend the off-season working on improving the difficulty of her routine, perhaps adding a 21/2 twist, maybe even a triple.
“I don’t really feel I have gotten new skills this year,” Chan said. “The biggest difference for me has been the quality of my routines. But this is just the beginning for me.”
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