By Arlie Rahn
Arizona Daily Wildcat January 24, 1996
Arizona freshman Heidi Hornbeek did not plan on being a gymnast. In fact, not too long ago her athletic career of choice involved a pool, not a gym.
"I was in swimming and diving when my coach said, 'Why don't you take a gymnastics class to help you with your flips?' And after a few classes and seeing Mary Lou Retton in the Olympics I realized I didn't want to be a diver anymore," Hornbeek said.
Ten years later, Hornbeek found herself traveling with the 1994 U.S. National Team and competing internationally in the 1995 World University games.
"Being on the national team was great," Hornbeek said. "It was just like going to the Olympics. Every sport was there and living together in one area.
"It was very intense. We trained a week before and when we got there we had four or five days of straight competition. It was a little rough because we didn't have a day off, but it was a lot of fun."
But Hornbeek was not content with just showing up. In the Golden Sands competition in Bulgaria, she recorded perfect 10 marks on the bars and floor exercise, finishing third in the all-around competition. In a Tokyo meet, the Chunichi Cup, she scored seco nd on the bars and vault, also finishing the all-around ranked third.
"Heidi does a lot of things to improve your scoring potential," UA coach Jim Gault said. "She is the type of gymnast that enhances your program, especially since she's been in a lot of high-pressure situations with the national team."
Now Hornbeek finds herself as the top prospect in what Gault called Arizona's most talented recruiting class ever. And she has not been hesitant about making an impact, either. Hornbeek has paced the Wildcats' first two meets, winning the all-around with scores of 38.975 and 39.050, the eighth- and sixth-best performances in school history, respectively. She has also finished in the top three in six of the eight events she has participated in thus far, taking first place in five.
"There are some differences between my experience in the World Games and playing in college," Hornbeek said. "One thing is that everything is a lot more team-based and that's great. There also is not quite the same intensity that the national team has."
Her smooth transition to the collegiate level has also been aided by her proximity to her home in Glendale.
"When I was looking at the different schools, I felt Arizona was not only a great school with a high reputation in athletics, but that it would be the perfect distance from home," Hornbeek said. "Also I think that my past (traveling) experiences did ease the shock of going to college a bit. I think I had become very independent from it."
While her first few meets have been just short of perfect, Hornbeek said she realizes there are still a few areas of improvement.
"Heidi needs to work on her own self-confidence," Gault said. "She does routines that we think are great, but she criticizes herself. She needs to utilize her innate talent and not be as tough on herself."
And even though she has set some high expectations with her first two meets, Hornbeek said she does not feel any additional pressure.
"The way I look at it is that every time I go out and compete, it is a new day," she said. "And no matter how good or bad the results are, I will be satisfied if I go out and do my best."