Despite previous ankle injury, Spring rising to the top

By Mike Czapar

Junior gymnast Justin Spring has certainly seen his share of ups and downs throughout this season. After receiving a high ankle sprain early in the preseason, Spring has been slowly nursing himself back to full strength while chalking up some pretty impressive honors along the way.

Despite not being at full strength, Spring has already managed to take home a national championship on the high bar at the Winter Cup, qualify for the National team, and chalk up two additional event titles in big meets.

Spring said although he has been happy with the highlights of this season so far, his injury has been very discouraging, and he is looking forward to his recovery.

“I was told six weeks originally, and it’s been 12 weeks already,” Spring said. “I hate being injured. It’s getting close to being crunch-time where everybody is just focusing on staying consistent, and I’m just really getting started on a lot of events. On things like high bar where it’s such a high landing – I’m always kind of subconsciously favoring my other leg. It’s tough.”

Head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said although the injury has been hard for Spring, as well as his Illinois teammates, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and Spring is handling the distraction as well as could be expected.

“It’s not easy going through almost half a season and not being able to do what (Spring) knows he is capable of doing,” Hayasaki said. “It’s tough for him, but at the same time he’s getting better – competition is something he looks forward to. He’s optimistic about getting to the point where he will be able to compete in all the events. It’s hard, but I think he’s handling it quite well at this point.”

Spring’s first meet with the National squad will be Feb. 26 at the American Cup in Long Island, NY. Spring will be competing on the high bar against some of the top athletes from around the world.

Spring said he is excited to be competing with the national squad and has been making changes to his high bar routine to adapt accordingly.

“The scoring for nationals is a lot different than college and a lot more difficult,” Spring said. “Basically, a 10-0 start value for college is only equivalent to a nine-six. If I was to do my same set as I do in college perfect, I could only get a nine-six. So, I’ve had to put some more skills together and practice a more difficult routine than I’ve been doing.”

Hayasaki said the fact that Spring has still been able to achieve at such a high level says a lot about his talent and about the talent of the Illini.

“(Spring’s honors) tells you how talented of an individual he is, and how capable of performing he is,” Hayasaki said. “Even with the injury, he has done very well and that says a lot about him, and about what kind of a team we are. Even with one of our top guys injured we’re still No. 1.”