Men look for elusive championship title

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Erin Foley

The seniors on the men’s gymnastics team know what it’s like to see a National Championship slip through their fingers by only the slimmest of margins.

The team finished third at last year’s NCAA Championships to first-place Oklahoma, 225.675- 223.750. Now in their last year at Illinois, Justin Spring, Adam Pummer, Ted Brown and Anthony Russo hope it’s their turn to win a title.

“You realize the seasons go by so fast, this is what you compete for,” Spring said. “We’ve been three-tenths away from a National Championship two years in a row now, and to have it slip out of your fingers by such a little amount, you’re like what could we have done in the past?”

Ranked No. 2 in the GymInfo national preseason poll, Illinois returns 10 letterwinners, including three All-Americans. Spring, Pummer and sophomore Tyler Yamauchi received eight All-America honors last year.

“We definitely showed last year we could compete, and our lack of experience kind of hurt us, and that’s what we have improved on,” Pummer said.

In addition to the team’s senior leadership, the Illini will look to their seven sophomores who now have one year of experience under their belts. In practice, Pummer said the men have been working their way up “to being perfect.” With a new code system to perfect, the team is focused on repetitions.

The Illini will begin to use a new code put in place by the Federation of International Gymnastics in their second meet of the year, the Windy City Invitational later next month.

Head coach Yoshi Hayasaki expects to see much lower scores around the 7.0 through 9.0 range throughout the season, and not until the next three to four years will gymnasts work their way back to a 10.0.

“10.0 is sort of our symbol since gymnastics first started Olympic competition,” Hayasaki said.

While Spring said the team has its weaknesses on certain events, he is optimistic about the number of “good all-around competitors.”

Hayasaki said the team will look to its “incredible sophomore group,” along with the freshmen, whose contribution remains to be seen.

While their greatest strength could be in floor exercise and high bar, Hayasaki said the Illini will look different on pommel horse. The Illini lost Big Ten Pommel Horse Champion Ben Newman and All-American Peter Schostchuk to graduation.

“If you see anything different in this year’s team, it could be lack of depth in pommel horse,” Hayasaki said.

For both Spring and Pummer, the one meet that sticks out on the schedule is against Ohio State on Jan. 28 in Columbus, Ohio. After coming in second to Ohio State at nationals last April, the Illini will be looking for a small amount of revenge.

“That’s the one we’re going to try and win, that’s what we’re looking forward to right now, that meet,” Pummer said.

Illinois will only get another chance at defending champion Oklahoma at nationals beginning April 6 in Norman, Okla.

With only four freshmen on the 15-man team, Pummer said he knows the seniors will be looked to throughout the 2006 season.

“The biggest thing we can do is give our knowledge of what we’ve been through and what to expect throughout everything,” Pummer said. “Just try our best to transfer what we know.”

The Illini open their season this Friday at 7 p.m. when they compete in the Mixed Pairs meet at Huff Hall.

World’s Recap

Spring competed at the World Gymnastics Championships on Nov. 22-27 in Melbourne, Australia.

Competing in three events, high bar, parallel bars and floor exercise, Spring failed to advance to the finals on the later two apparatuses.

His 8.912 on floor and 9.600 on parallel bars were not high enough to place, although he said he was only less than one-tenth away from making it to the finals on those two events.

For individual events, the top eight from the qualification rounds advanced to the finals. Spring, the U.S. National high bar champion, did qualify as an alternate for the event after scoring a 9.562.

Spring, though, said the experience was well worth it, being able to establish a name for himself internationally.

“It doesn’t sound like much on paper, but people don’t understand that’s a big deal,” Spring said. “If you look at the finalists on almost all of the events, out of the eight spots, probably six of them were former Olympic medalists or World Championship medalists. You establish yourself, and then you start getting the benefit of the doubt.”