Sunday, November 13, 2011

Could this be the year for Illini Gymnastics?

I had the chance this weekend to watch a couple hours of the Illinois Men's Gymnastics team Wow was it amazing. I always forget how much a difference it is between JO and NCAA gymnastics. NCAA gymnastics can also be looked at as international level gymnastics. Two of Illinois best athletes right now are on the US national team. One just came back from world championships. I don't know that there is a single guy on that team now that wouldn't mop the floor with the best of the best from 10 years ago. It is amazing how these athletes just continue to get better and better. Skills are learned in half the time, the men seem to be getting bigger as well. At 5'8" I was one of the tallest on my team in 2005, now I would be average at best. I don't know why they are getting taller, generally the smaller guys do better. But these dudes look like football players.

The practice I saw guys were putting together what looks like about a third of their routines. Some guys were doing full sets already but they were not polished. This is early in the year to be looking this good, but better to be ready and back off than just trying to catch up. My old teammate and friend Justin Spring now leads the team as it's head coach. The University did a brilliant job when they decided to go with Justin. He was an amazing athlete and lead our team as our top gymnast and even a team captain. For a guy who had all he needed to be great on his own, Justin was the guy always looking out for his team. He impressed me over and over with his selfless attitude. Justin could have floated through his college career training when he wanted, competing all around to make his scores look better for his chances internationally.But he gave up those chances so that our teams score would be even better. Now he is not only in charge of the competitive future of this great team, but also it's traditions, which he takes very seriously.

For a few years the Illini have been making it a tradition of coming so close to winning a national championships. While I was there twice we came in to the NCAA championships ranked number 1. Both times we won the first day of competition, but when it all came down to it, we couldn't finish. Since 2004 that has been a recurring theme. Almost every year the Illini has been highly ranked and every year we just barely miss out on the big prize. Justin is getting close though, he wants it so badly. Everyday he sets himself to the single goal of bringing the championship back to Champaign. It is amazing the talent that he has brought together with the little money that men's gymnastics gets. He has a way of getting people to buy into an idea, or a dream. And you want nothing more than to be part of whatever it is that he is "selling". But he isn't pitching you, he just wants you to share in the excitement and see what he can see. I know that Justin will bring the Illini a gymnastics championship, he will most likely do it multiple times. It would be great though if this year was the year.

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