Relaxation proves key for men’s gymnastics

By Jeff LaBelle

Tyler Yamauchi is living in the moment.

Last weekend, he and his teammates made it a goal to relax, to not get ahead of themselves during their dual-meet win against Iowa. The easy-going attitude paid off, resulting in a season-high score of 214.950 – and gave the team an idea of how they can be successful Saturday when they face off with top-ranked Michigan.

“I wanted to keep everyone else in that same mindset, relaxed and ready to compete,” Yamauchi said. “When we go to Michigan with that rowdy crowd, we’ll try to stay as calm as possible. We’re going to stay in our groove, hit one event at a time and get done with it. You can’t think about the past or the future.”

The present is a good place to be for Yamauchi. This week, the junior was named the Big Ten’s co-selection for their Gymnast of the Week award, sharing the title with Michigan’s Andrew Elkind. Last weekend, Yamauchi scored a 9.6 on rings, a 9.3 on parallel bars, and helped the sixth-ranked Illini set three season-high event scores. Yamauchi said he was relieved to win the award and is excited to build on the accomplishment.

“It’s a great honor, but it’s just one of those things where you have to say, ‘It’s about time,'” he said. “Everyone on the team is good enough to win one, but it’s time I showed what I could do.”

Because of changes he made to his routines in practice, Yamauchi said he put himself in a better position to score higher. He said the benefits outweighed the sacrifices.

“I watered down my parallel bar and horse routine so that it would be easier for me,” he said. “Even though I lost two-tenths in difficulty, I saved six-tenths in flub deductions. I was able to score a lot higher.”

Head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said the award was well deserved.

Hayasaki also said that the performances of Yamauchi and junior Wes Haagensen will be key for the Illini this weekend. They’re both capable of big scores, Hayasaki said, but he also mentioned that Michigan’s strength, their depth, will pose a tough challenge to Illinois.

“As far as depth is concerned, Michigan has the most,” Hayasaki said. “That’s something that will be difficult to challenge; we don’t have that. But we’re training pretty well, the guys are getting healthier, and we’ll probably put up one of our better lineups this weekend.”

Michigan is led by Elkind, brothers Justin and Torrance Laury and top-recruit Mel Santander. Last week, Elkind claimed the parallel bars and high bar titles against fifth-ranked Stanford. Hayasaki said his team can use the experience to prepare for the NCAA Championships in April.

“It’ll be a challenge for us,” Hayasaki said. “Certainly, Michigan has the talent to win the Big Ten and possibly the National Championships. But you have to remember, we’re coming along too. We’ll see where we stand.”