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SHE'S AN ALL-AROUND STAR FOR BRUINS.

Byline: LEE BARNATHAN University Beat

Former Olympian Jamie Dantzscher was tired of gymnastics. The politics, endless hours of training, travel and pressure zapped her love of a sport in which she has excelled since she was a child.

But Dantzscher rediscovered her love of gymnastics at UCLA, where she competes for the Bruins and is the favorite to win the all-around title at the NCAA Championships, which begin Thursday at the University of Alabama. UCLA is favored to win its third consecutive team title and fourth in six years.

As an elite gymnast, Dantzscher practiced in Vanessa Atler's shadow and earned a rebellious reputation because she spoke her mind and asked coaches, 'Why do I have to do this drill this way.' Elite gymnastics also is inherently competitive, leaving little room for camaraderie.

``At the Olympics, you were expected to do well,'' she said. ``Coaches tell you, 'You have to do well.' ''

College gymnastics is different. The judging is easier, you can earn more 10s and the same gymnasts and coaches are there every day. Dantzscher loves seeing fellow Bruins Onnie Willis, Alyssa Beckermann, Yvonne Tousek, coach Valorie Kondos Field and everyone else.

``At UCLA, we're told, 'We can do well, we can win the national championship,' and how cool would that be,'' she said. ``We work together all year and we know how much we want it. Coaches care more about us as people than gymnasts.''

The hours in the gym don't seem so bad because there are hours in the classroom, hours studying and hours spending time with fellow gymnasts. This also helps remove the pressure of being the favorite to win the all-around Thursday night.

Dantzscher is the favorite simply because of the season she has had: 10 consecutive 10s on the floor, 10s on the vault and bars, a 9.9 on the beam, Pacific-10 Conference and West Region Gymnast of the Year awards and a national No. 1 rankings on floor and bars.

``Unarguably, Jamie Dantzscher is the most talented female collegiate gymnast in the history of the sport,'' Kondos Field said. ``She has the perfect combination: a beautiful body, beautiful legs and feet, she's got big hands, beautiful ballet feet, a body that is aesthetically pleasing to look at as she is strong. She's blessed with a charisma that superstars have, and she is bright, very bright. She's got it all. She's very quick-witted. She's smart. She asks why all the time. I can see why she drives coaches nuts.''

Dantzscher is aware of her gifts but also knows she is insecure. Besides, winning the team title again is her priority. At last year's NCAAs, someone asked Dantzscher how the NCAAs compared to the Olympics.

Dantzscher said, ``This was 10 times more stressful but 10 times more exciting and 10 times more rewarding.''

``That brought tears to my eyes,'' Kondos Field said. ``What a testament to collegiate gymnastics. She's the poster child. She really is.''

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UCLA's Jamie Dantzscher is the favorite for the all-around title at this week's NCAA gymnastics championships.

David Sprague/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Apr 17, 2002
Words:515
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