For Ashley Postell, it was probably the hardest decision of her life last summer when she said no to a chance at the Olympics.
"Mostly because it's a dream of mine. I'm sure it's a dream for a lot of people," said Postell, the 2002 world balance beam champion who would likely have been on the 2004 U.S. team in Athens except for a year full of illness and injury that kept her from training enough to perform well at the U.S. championships.
She was 13th at nationals, and as first alternate, she got a call inviting her to be an injury replacement in the U.S. Olympic Trials at Anaheim, Calif.
"It was really hard. Everyone wanted me to go, like family and friends and coaches and stuff, but I just knew that it was up to me to make the decision and not what everyone else wanted me to do," she said Friday night.
The freshman on the University of Utah gymnastics team had just performed some unjudged exhibition routines with her teammates at the Huntsman Center at a free "sneak peek" intrasquad session for fans. Children were allowed to sit on the floor and watch close-up, and the gymnasts signed autographs afterward.
Postell is part of a recruiting class of three that hopes to help the U. return to national dominance. The Utes placed sixth nationally last year, a disappointment for this proud program. Her fellow freshmen are Jessica Duke of Sandy and Katie Kivisto of Boca Raton, Fla. Utah's season begins Jan. 7 in the Huntsman Center when Utah hosts two-time defending NCAA champion UCLA.
"I wasn't really training," Postell said of the moment when she got the call to come to the Olympic Trials.
She'd taken some time off after the disappointment of a fall on bars at nationals left her 13th. "I was kind of taking it easy because I was just thinking about college at the time," she said. "When I got the final call, I knew I wasn't in shape, and I knew that someone else should go. Just give the chance to someone who was more ready."
Postell says she's over the disappointment now. "I'm OK. I guess just, the past is in the past. Time to move on. College is where I am now," she said. "I guess it doesn't bring me down as much because I know that in the past I have made accomplishments, like my 2002 world beam champion stuff.
It hurt a bit for her to attend the T.J. Maxx Tour of Olympic Champions at the Delta Center a couple weeks ago. She had participated in the tour a year earlier, and it was a reminder of the Olympics, with many of the people from the silver-medal-winning men's and women's teams. "But it was still really fun to go and watch it, and I got to see all the girls and stuff down on the floor, so it was real exciting." Postell was even introduced on the floor after intermission.
She still harbors some thoughts of trying to make the 2008 Olympic team, though she's not sure if she'll still want to do it four years from now. And she's the first alternate for a World Cup event this month in England.
"If I have any chance to do anything else, I'd probably try to do it, like if I get called to any competitions," she said. The U.S. team leaves Dec. 8. "If anything happens to anyone, which I hope not, then I would go."
If not, she'll content herself with doing most of her world-championship-winning beam routine for Utah. "I don't connect my series or do my triple dismount. Other than that, I kept everything," she said.
Postell hopes to become a surgeon or pediatrician. "I've wanted to be since I was 7 or so. It's going to be really hard, but I'm willing to try," she said. She's not sure why, but she noticed that when surgery was shown on television, others would think it "so gross.
People will turn on the TV, and there'll be, like, surgery on, and they'll think it's so gross. I think it's really cool. I can't wait to take anatomy."
Postell was introduced to Utah through a member of the USA Gymnastics staff, Kathy Kelly, who called Greg and Megan Marsden to ask if they'd be interested in her. Were they ever. She made her recruiting trip on Halloween and liked the scenery, potential teammates and everything else. "After my recruiting trip, I guess I felt like I belonged here," Postell said."Not going to the Olympics didn't have an effect on anything I'm doing now. I'm really excited to start season for college and finish my four years and maybe, if I have enough drivein 2008," she said, laughing a little at thinking so far ahead but allowing herself to dream a little anyway.