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Taryn Apgood of Salt Lake City is only 13, and she's only about 4-foot-10, but her sudden growth to that lofty size put her promising gymnastics career on ice for more than a year.

The growth plates in her joints couldn't keep up with the rest of her body, and Apgood developed hip, knee and ankle problems. Too fond of the sport to let that stop her, she worked at conditioning and stretching, biding time until doctors said it was OK to train again."It took maybe a month or two to get everything back, plus learn new skills," Apgood says.

It took longer for her to get over her fear factor. "She's still dealing with fear," says Apgood's coach, Mary Wright, who has helped coach 10 Olympic gymnasts, "but she pushes harder than anyone I've ever had."

Fourteen-year-old Deidra Graham of Tooele is Apgood's teammate at the new Olympus School of Gymnastics in Sandy, run by Wright, husband Hal and friends Cliff and Kim Hansen.

Like Apgood, Graham is making up for lost time in gymnastics. She didn't begin in the sport until four or five years ago when her dance teacher thought Graham's pageant-winning solo dance routine could be snazzed up if she did a back handspring at the end. The teacher sent Graham to a gymnastics instructor to learn the move, and Deidra realized she liked gymnastics' other events like beam and bars more than dancing and back handsprings.

"I think I've progressed very rapidly," says Graham.


Both youngsters leave Utah Monday, with Wright and assistant coach Meredith King, the University of Utah gym team graduate, for Nashville, Tenn., where the girls will make their debuts in the 1994 National Championships, formerly Championships of the USA. The 1993 National Championships were held last August in the Delta Center.

Because of their ages, both girls qualified for the Junior Championships. Apgood was ninth and Graham 10th two weeks ago at the American Classic in Palm Springs, Calif., one of three qualifying meets for the National Championships. Should either or both finish in the top 12 this week at Nashville, they would become members of the National Junior Elite team and would then likely be assigned by the U.S. Gymnastics Federation to compete in national and international meets with hopes of developing them for the next two Olympics (Apgood will be too young for 1986 in Atlanta).

Wright and both girls say if they hit all eight of their routines - four compulsory routines Wednesday and four optional routines Thursday - they are good enough to make the national team. If not, just qualifying is a thrill.

"It's their first year elite," says Wright. "It's very rare to make it to Championships your first year. The biggest thing is their lack of consistency," she says - a sign of inexperience.

Wright chuckles at how Apgood and Graham were more like fans than competitors in Palm Springs, rushing around getting autographs from Olympians like Shannon Miller and Dominique Dawes.

The girls will have a litte edge on some of their young competitors. They've already trained and competed in Europe, and they spent seven months traveling from one gym to the next here in Utah while Wright looked for a building suitable to house her own school after leaving Murray's Rocky Mountain Gymnastics, where the two girls formerly trained with Wright.

Wright and the girls were invited by Wright's friends in Europe to go there this summer and train in France and compete in a meet in Germany. Few are able tocompete internationally until the USGF assigns them to and helps with expenses, so the Olympus girls have that advantage.

"It gave me experience competing in front of a crowd," says Graham.

"Experience helps a lot in all of the big meets," says Apgood, who's had a good competitive season already. She won her age group at the Utah Summer Games, won bars and was second all-around in the all-ages Desert Devil Invitational in Scottsdale, Ariz. "One of the best meets I've had," she says.

Training in numerous Utah gyms helped, too, because the girls got used to familiarizing themselves with different types and qualities of equipment and unusual surroundings.