Cookies Are His Bag, but Daggett's Still a Gymnast

Times Staff Writer

Tim Daggett, America's top male gymnast and former UCLA and 1984 Olympics star, was gracious the other day when two women students came up to him on the UCLA campus and asked for his autograph.

"No problem," he said when one apologized for asking him to sign the only piece of blank paper she had, a bag from a Westwood cookie shop.

Daggett, 23, is back at UCLA, completing work for a degree in psychology after taking time out to help the U.S. men win a gold medal in the '84 Olympics. He was asked by an interviewer if he ever eats too much during the rigorous training program he maintains as the star of the U.S. national team.

"I'm always on a diet. Too many cookies make bad workouts," he said.

Occasional Cookie Binge

But he confessed that he sometimes relaxes the regimen and goes on a cookie binge. "You need releases, or else you'd go crazy. When you train for six hours a day for 12 straight years you lose your sanity if you don't (relax). You need to be a person."

Peter Vidmar and Mitch Gaylord, Daggett's former teammates at UCLA and on the U.S. team, felt the need to get out of gymnastics after their Olympic triumph and get into lines of work that don't require as much physical discipline as gymnastics. Gaylord, for instance, has been working as a leading man in a film.

But Daggett is still a gymnast and will give an exhibition during the UCLA Men's Invitational at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Pauley Pavilion.

He has been performing since he was about 11 and wandered into a gym in his hometown of West Springfield, Mass. He took to the gym's rings, high bars, parallel bars and pommel horse like an eagle takes to flight. And like an eagle swooping on its prey, he earned a reputation as an aggressive, attacking gymnast who was called the Bull by his UCLA teammates.

First NCAA Title

His accomplishments in gymnastics include a strong performance that helped UCLA win its first NCAA championship in 1984. In that meet, he finished with firsts in the parallel bars, the pommel horse and rings and was second in the all-around to Gaylord.

In the last Olympics, his perfect score of 10 on the high bar clinched the gold medal for the U.S. team. He also won the bronze medal on the pommel horse and finished seventh in individual competition.

At last summer's McDonald's Challenge, the Chinese men's and women's teams won the team titles, but Daggett won individual gold medals in the pommel horse and parallel bars.

So why is he still at it? Because he still enjoys the sport and hopes to help the U.S. win another gold at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

Competing Still a Thrill

Daggett, who has been earning his keep by touring with the U.S. team and as a motivational speaker, said that he will keep on competing "as long as it is financially possible and a big opportunity doesn't come up to make me retire. I still get a thrill out of it as long as I can still compete."

Though he feels good about his speaking appearances before groups as diverse as the Boy Scouts of America and the Future Homemakers of America, he said he is not ready to start making a career out of that sort of thing.

He said that his talks on motivation have drawn "a very good response, if I can deliver a message and get it across." He said he has received "hundreds of letters from people, saying that I added something to their lives or (brought out) things they didn't realize.

"But right now I'm not ready to do anything like that at all . . . I'm not the kind of guy to do anything just for a buck."

Gold Still Motivates

A gold medal is still enough motivation for Daggett. "We have a lot of talented people, and they'll be going for it (a gold medal at Seoul)," he said.

Scott Johnson, former University of Nebraska star, is the only other member of the '84 U.S. team to stay with Daggett on the current national squad. The others on the team and their universities are Brian Babcock of Southern Illinois, Dan Hayden of Arizona State, Charlie Lakes of Illinois and Phil Cahoy of Nebraska.

Strong teams from Nebraska, Arizona State, Minnesota, New Mexico State, Cal State Fullerton and host UCLA will compete in Saturday night's invitational, and stars from those teams may provide competition for Daggett and his U.S. teammates at the 1988 Olympic trials.

Daggett said that gymnastics, "like any other sport, doesn't stand still" and that UCLA alone could provide at least five members of the 1988 U.S. team. He said that tough competition for the national team could come from such Bruins as sophomore Brian Ginsberg, who finished eighth at the last U.S. championships; senior Rob Campbell, who finished ninth, freshman Curtis Holdsworth, sophomore David Moriel and freshman David St. Pierre from Culver City.

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