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Pioneers gymnasts to compete in 2008 Summer Olympic Games

Gymnasts Annamari Maaranen and Jessica Lopez

Pioneers gymnasts Jessica López and Annamari Maaranen jump for joy at the Whispers sculpture ouside DU's Ritchie Center. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

The DU Pioneers are named after those tenacious trailblazers who sought gold in Colorado in the 19th century. Now, two Pioneers gymnasts are seeking gold in the 21st century—Olympic gold.

Junior Jessica López and freshman Annamari Maaranen have earned spots to compete in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

They’re the first DU gymnasts ever to make it to the Olympics.

They learned of their achievement after stellar performances at the 40th World Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart, Germany last fall.

“It’s just so huge. I couldn’t really understand that I had made it at first,” says Maaranen, who will compete for Finland. She remembers developing her gymnastics skills early by performing handstands with her brother in her front yard in Finland.

López, who began gymnastics at age 4, credits her family for the achievement. “They’ve always believed in me, and my older sisters taught me to always challenge myself,” says López, who will compete for her native Venezuela.

López will be the lone female gymnast representing that nation. Maaranen is the first Finnish gymnast in 44 years to qualify for the Games.

But neither admits to feeling any extra pressure. “I don’t feel it. I worked hard and I’m proud of making it,” says López.

“I’m just going to do my best, no pressure,” Maaranen adds.

López was a three-time All-American for the Pioneers last spring finishing in the top 10 on balance beam, floor exercise and uneven bars at the NCAA national championships.

As a member of Finland’s national team, Maaranen won the Finnish all-around championship in 2005 and 2006.

Both will compete at the Olympics in the all-around competition, which includes the vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise.

Gymnastics head coach Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart says López is particularly strong in vault, bars and floor, and Maaranen shines on the bars and beam.

Their appearance at the Games will undoubtedly shed more light on DU gymnastics, Kutcher-Rinehart says. “This is great for two reasons: one, for the attention they’re getting—they’ve worked hard and they deserve it; and two, the attention it gives all of our 15 athletes. They work hard, too, and I think it will raise the level of the entire program.”

Both López and Maaranen are psychology majors and say they aren’t concerned about keeping up with their studies while they prep for the games. In fact, L¢pez says being a psych major actually helps her.

“I’ve learned to use some relaxation techniques to calm me down before I compete,” she says.

Maaranen is sticking to her regular training routine. “I’m too old to add more hours,” the 21-year old says with a winsome grin.

López, however, has added about 10 more hours of training to her current 20 hours a week. “It won’t bother me because I love it so much,” she says. “It doesn’t feel like work.”


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