Gymnasts place in Winter Cup Challenge

By Jeff LaBelle

There were no jackpots, but Illinois still rolled the dice in Las Vegas this past weekend.

Wes Haagensen led the barrage of Illini gymnasts in the 2007 Winter Cup Challenge and finished seventh in the all-around competition with a two-day total score of 170.2.

But the dream of being named to the USA Olympic squad this time around may have been just that, a dream, although there is still one spot remaining on the team. The Olympic committee will announce their selection for the remaining spot tomorrow.

“Wesley did really well,” Illinois head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said. “He had a little miss on his rings dismount, and that probably cost him from being a national team member.”

The challenge saw three current and former Illinois gymnasts finish in the top thirty among a field of about 80 national competitors. Six gymnasts were named to Team USA’s roster after the tournament; three were the top point-finishers, and three were appointed by the Olympic committee.

Haagensen finished 25th in both the floor exercise and pommel horse, 22nd on the still rings, and 18th on parallel bars. His top scores, however, came on the high bar and vault, where he finished tied for 11th with former Illini Adam Pummer and 10th, respectively.

In international competition, gymnasts don’t receive any points unless they finish in the top ten, one reason Haagensen wasn’t among the top point-finishers.

In all-around competition, junior Tyler Yamauchi finished 27th and Pummer, representing Team Gattaca, finished 25th. Chris Lung, who competed in preliminaries last Thursday, didn’t advance to the final round of competition.

“I think this competition strengthened them, especially Wes and Tyler,” Hayasaki said. “This type of competition strengthens them mentally and physically. It’s really good for them.”

In the live webcast of the events, former Olympians Mihai Bagiu and Stephen McCain called Yamauchi’s ring routines “pretty strong,” and added “he’s just a strong guy.” His ring routines tied for 14th in the two-day competition. Yamauchi’s highest finish was on vault, where his score of 30.6 was good enough to tie for 12th.

Illinois native David Sender of Arlington Heights, competing for Stanford University, led the competition heading into the final round on Saturday. He finished second with an all-around score of 176.950, three-tenths behind the top spot, but was not one of the top three point-finishers that earned automatic Team USA berths.

The Illinois gymnastics team returns to action 6 p.m. Saturday at Penn State.