Deidra Graham, 15, has only been in gymnastics about six years, and no one would have blamed her if she'd taken the easy route this week.
The Tooele youngster who trains at Sandy's Olympus School of Gymnastics and will be a sophomore at Brighton High School, could be in New Orleans this week looking at a real chance to win a national championship. In the junior class."If she won juniors, so what?" says coach Mary Wright.
Instead, she'll be at the Coca-Cola National Gymnastics Championships that start Wednesday in the Superdome competing with Shannon Miller and Amanda Borden and all the other world-familiar American names in the senior division, the people who've been her role models. Her hopes in the senior division are merely to finish among the top 20 and become a member of the national senior team.
Graham will be joined at the national championships by North Salt Lake's Casey Bryan, a University of Oklahoma junior-to-be and member of the senior men's national team; and Salt Laker Brittnee Penman, who trains at Desert Devils in Scottsdale, Ariz. Utah can also claim a share of Olympian Trent Dimas, who's trained lately at Woods Cross's USA Gymnastics World, which produced Bryan.
Graham might have a chance to place in her best events, bars and beam, but more likely this is more of a learning experience because the more-veteran performers will likely be cleaner, though Graham's skills can match most in those events. But this will let judges become a little more familiar with her name so she'll have a shot at qualifying for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic team.
It also means she must compete in compulsory routines not included at the junior level. She needs the work and exposure in compulsories, Wright says.
"She needs to be out there with the top guns," Wright says.
"It's a little bit more exciting," says Graham about declaring herself a senior. "It's harder to qualify," she says. "In the senior division, you can't make a mistake at all. You have to look cleaner and hit everything."
She's competed in two all-senior events, the U.S. Classic in March in Oakland, where she was 23rd, and the American Classic in Alabama this summer, where she was 16th all-around. She was quite nervous at the U.S. Classic, says Wright, but Graham notes that she performed on balance beam at the same time that Dominique Dawes was doing floor. "I blocked out everything and did my routine and stuck my dismont. We ended at the same time, so everyone was clapping," Graham says. "It was a good test to see how I concentrate."
The senior men's compulsories are the first competitive event of the '95 nationals starting at 11 a.m. MDT Wednesday. The senior women's competition starts at 8 p.m. MDT Wednesday in the Superdome. Junior optionals are Thursday afternoon, followed by senior men's optionals Thursday night, junior finals Friday afternoon, senior women's optionals Friday night, men's event finals Saturday afternoon and senior women's even finals Saturday.