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COLLEGE JUMP DANTZSCHER EMERGING FROM SYDNEY GAMES.

Byline: Lee Barnathan Staff Writer

All has changed for Jamie Dantzscher, yet nothing has. Life is fun, then it's not. There's laughter, then there isn't.

She remains a gymnast at heart - the same one who reached her Olympic dreams, only to criticize the sport's most famous coach and privately suffer after her father suffered serious injuries in a car crash at the Games in Sydney, Australia.

She's just being herself - outspoken, confident, full of humor and desire - in a new venue as she begins a new chapter in her life: 18-year-old college freshman and UCLA gymnast.

``The first week, everything kind of sets in,'' she said. ``I'm in college now. I'm really an adult. I'm overwhelmed.''

The former Littlerock resident made her presence known early with two perfect scores in her first meet. But there's so much else on which to focus: the classes, the social life, the rekindled love for her sport.

Her Olympic and UCLA teammate, Alyssa Beckerman, said she saw Dantzscher on the first day of school, and Dantzscher exclaimed: ``I love college!''

``It's her freedom of being here and fully getting started on a new chapter in her life,'' Beckerman said. ``A normal life, finally.''

Normal is not a word that describes Dantzscher.

She is the gymnast who, when Beckerman competed against her at the 1996 Nationals in Knoxville, Tenn., shocked everyone with a double-flip- with-two-twists dismount off the bars.

``My jaw dropped to the floor,'' Beckerman said.

This also is the girl who, with fellow elite gymnast Jeanette Antolin in tow, sneaked out of the team's hotel at the 1999 World Championships to hang out with the men's team.

``USA Gymnastics thought me and Jamie were the rebels,'' said Antolin, now at UCLA. ``She used to tell me, when her and Vanessa Atler used to work out at the same gym, Vanessa was the good little girl and Jamie was the rebel. Vanessa was in the spotlight and Jamie was in the shadows.''

And this was Dantzscher emerging from the shadows at the Olympics to criticize Bela Karolyi, saying he has too much power, too much control, takes too much credit for gymnasts' successes and deflects too much blame when things go badly. Ultimately, Karolyi left.

Dantzscher said her statements in Sydney were an attempt to tell people what was really going on and publicly warn her younger twin sisters, who also are elite gymnasts. Her fellow gymnasts admired her for it; USA Gymnastics criticized her, and Dantzscher reinforced her reputation for having an attitude.

UCLA coach Valorie Kondos Field wondered the same about Dantzscher, who told her the problem is she asks, ``Why?''

``I speak my mind and for a lot of people, it's a misunderstanding,'' Dantzscher said. ``I don't mean to come off disrespectful. Adults, when you speak your mind, tend to take that as disrespectful. I ask why, and when I understand that, I do it. I'm not going to stop speaking my mind.''

Dantzscher says she inherited this quality from her father, John, a man to whom she has grown closer since the cab he rode in at the Games got hit by a bus, injuring Jamie's older sister Jennifer and putting John in a coma for a week.

John has suffered paralysis on the left side of his face, depth-perception problems and substantial hearing loss. Jamie's mother, Joyce, said John only now is relearning how to walk backward and up and down stairs.

A Lancaster-area supermarket where John used to work raised $1,200 for the Dantzscher family.

``I'm thankful people were there,'' Jamie Dantzscher said. ``I appreciate the people who called.''

Naturally, the experience has her more thankful for life, for her Olympic experiences and for college gymnastics. All the years of hard work as an elite gymnast often made her feel like gymnastics was a job.

``(Gymnastics) was so different, so hard. Everything you do is that one thing,'' she said. ``Family comes second, friends come second, social life comes second. Workouts were so intense. . . . Some think (college gymnastics) is a job, but for me, it's fun.''

One reason she said it's fun: You can get 10s. In her first meet, Jan. 5 at the Maui Invitational, she got perfect scores in the uneven bars and floor. It was the first time a UCLA gymnast had recorded two 10s in a meet, let alone two 10s in her first meet.

``I was surprised for my first meet,'' she said. ``On the floor, I was surprised. It was my first event. I could've counted so many mistakes and I got a 10. On the bars, I stuck my dismount, so I sort of knew, Miss Val (Kondos Field) said, `Your bar routine would've scored a 10 in any meet.' ''

One day, Dantzscher awoke in her dorm room and realized this was where she would spend much of the next four years.

She reflected on her experiences thus far and smiled.

``I went to the (national) championships, then (Olympic) Trials, then Sydney, then the (post-Olympic) tour,'' she said. ``So many changes in so little time. I'm ready to settle down and have one place. I'm ready to be on my own and pursue my own goals and my own life.''

UCLA GYMNASTICS

What: Home opener vs. Utah

Where: Pauley Pavilion

When: Sunday, 2 p.m.

Tickets: $8 adults, $6 16 and under. Five-meet season tickets also available for $39 (adult), $29 (16 and under).

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo: (1 -- color) Jamie Dantzscher is settling into her role on the UCLA gymnastics team.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer

(2) Olympic gymnast Jamie Dantzscher is a freshman on the UCLA squad, coached by Valorie Kondos Field.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 20, 2001
Words:948
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