Stephanie Foxman and Nina Roffey are good gymnasts.

And good friends.

Foxman, of Springbrook, and Roffey, of Sherwood, finished first and second in the recent Montgomery County gymnastics championship at Seneca Valley.

Foxman, a junior, edged Roffey for the all-around title, 36.4 points to 35.6. Three years ago, Roffey won the title as a freshman in a performance that included a 10 on the beam.

But you'll find no bitterness or disappointment on Roffey's part or gloating by Foxman. Instead of the usual rivalry common to top athletes, Foxman and Roffey are close friends.

But it wasn't always that way.

Roffey, who is headed for Louisiana State University this fall on a full gymnastics scholarship, describes the situation bluntly: "We were pretty much enemies until two-and-a-half years ago."

Foxman invaded Roffey's turf as a freshman when she began working out in M-G's, a private gymnastics club in Rockville where Roffey had been a member for several years. "She seemed a little showy to me," said Foxman. "If I met her on the street, I wouldn't have liked her."

And Roffey, a perpetrator of practical jokes, often found Foxman a nice target.

The competition that provoked animosity three years ago now is a competition that commands respect.

"Before, we were just such rivals in everything," Foxman said. "I didn't like her because I thought she was better than me, whether it was gymnastics-wise or looks-wise. We might argue over something in gymnastics or about a guy. I don't think we could stand the fact that we were both so close in the running. But somewhere, I think, we just grew a little.".

As they grew, Roffey would congratulate Foxman after a good meet or cheer her up after a bad meet.

"It's all respect," Foxman said. "I was acting a little showy myself, but when she would come up to me after a meet, I would see the respect in her eyes. The face just told it all. By her respect, I learned that I could earn a position in the gym rather than just trying to take it over."

The two began to know each other as people rather that just as gymnasts stuck together in the gym 30 hours a week.

"It switched from buddy advice to people advice," said Roffey. "We started going out and talking about more than gymnastics."

The county meet was the first time the pair had competed against each other on opposing teams. Roffey competed for Sherwood her freshman year, but Foxman was not yet in high school. Sherwood did not have a gymnastics team during Roffey's sophomore and junior years. The only time the two schools met this year, Roffey was recovering from a broken leg.

"I said to her when we hugged at the beginning of the meet, 'This is so weird,' because we were never against each other head-to-head before," Foxman said. "We were sort of competing against each other in the private gym, but we had the same common goal. It seemed like I was always with her, not against her."