Stanford males’s gymnastics: Constructing a tradition, after which a dynasty

Ian Gunther can let you know precisely how the championship streak started — with an opponent’s inconceivable fall.

Gunther had simply chalked his fingers in preparation for a routine on rings. Going into the ultimate rotation of the 2019 NCAA Males’s Gymnastics Championships, Stanford trailed four-time defending champion Oklahoma by almost 4.5 factors. To bridge the hole, Gunther and his teammates wanted near-perfect execution and a few assist from the Sooners, who have been throughout the gymnasium finishing their lineup on excessive bar.

The then-freshman wasn’t watching his competitors, however he heard Oklahoma standout and future Olympian Yul Moldauer’s title being introduced. Subsequent got here a collective gasp from the spectators. “I’m clearly specializing in my routine, however I knew he fell,” Gunther recalled. “I knew he tousled, and in my head I’m like, ‘Alright, I feel they only opened the door proper there.’”

And so he took benefit of it. 

“I did the most effective routine in my life,” he stated. The Cardinal narrowly outscored Oklahoma to seize their first NCAA title since 2011.

Eight months earlier, the group had decided to defy the percentages. In a preseason coaches’ ballot, Oklahoma obtained 19 of 20 first-place votes. Stanford, coming off a disappointing 2018 season, obtained just one, which was forged by its head coach, Thom Glielmi.

Because it turned out, Glielmi’s gymnasts have been simply getting began. They’re underdogs now not, having bested No. 3 Michigan final month to say their fourth nationwide title in as a few years. Their 2022-2023 outcomes have been so dominant — a second straight convention championship and quite a few particular person accolades — that few exterior the group notice what number of obstacles have been overcome on the trail to a four-peat.

And in a collegiate athletic panorama upended by NIL and the switch portal, the boys’s gymnastics program has given Stanford Athletics a constant success story amidst the ups and downs of its extra high-profile groups. 

The Cardinal’s defiant run stemmed from a 2018 preseason journey, time spent introducing the frosh to expectations and selecting a group mantra: “New Period.” (This yr’s motto: “Set the Normal.”) Hours spent collectively, out and in of the gymnasium, developed a robust tradition.

“I do know that once they go and compete, I belief them with my complete life,” Matthew Szot ’22 M.S. ’23 stated of his teammates. “And I do know that they’re going to do precisely what they’ve been coaching for and precisely what they’ve been working for.”

The 2018-2019 group was comprised of skilled upperclassmen and a extremely touted freshman class. Amongst them have been future All-People, nationwide group members and an Olympian and world champion. 5 years later, Szot stated, not a single athlete on the roster is aware of what it’s wish to lose in NCAA group competitors.

Gymnast Ian Gunther performs on the rings, with a Penn State gym banner partially visible in the background.
Graduate scholar Ian Gunther ’22 M.S. ’23 competes on rings on the NCAA Championships final month. Gunther was additionally a part of the equipment’ lineup in 2019 as a freshman, when Stanford defeated four-time defending champion Oklahoma. (Photograph courtesy of Heather Weikel)

10 seniors graduated after final yr’s third consecutive championship, and solely three elected to compete for one more season. Added to this upheaval was the stress of Stanford’s latest dominance.

“Having that focus on on our again, I feel proper off the bat, from a psychological and emotional perspective, I feel that’s quite a bit, particularly on our youthful guys,” Szot stated.

The group was additionally affected by lingering and new accidents in the course of the season. In a single 24-hour interval in March, two gymnasts sustained season-ending accidents, together with fifth-year Brody Malone, a two-time NCAA all-around champion, nationwide champion, 2020 Olympian and world champion, who was injured whereas competing in Germany with the nationwide group.

Lacking athletes like Malone who have been anticipated to compete in 5 – 6 rotations come NCAAs, Glielmi regarded to gymnasts farther down the lineup to fill within the gaps because the Cardinal pursued its sixth nationwide title throughout his 21 seasons heading this system. On the championship meet hosted by Penn State, 14 group members have been known as on to finish two routines every on common. 

“After they had the chance, they have been prepared and so they embraced it and so they took benefit of the chance to be in a lineup,” stated Glielmi, who coached the 2020 Olympic group. “And so they did their job.”

Stanford gymnasts “hit,” or efficiently executed, 27 of 30 routines at NCAAs this yr, Glielmi stated, a efficiency which speaks to their fastidiously constructed group tradition the place every athlete is built-in and accountable.

Past the team-oriented mentality, Glielmi’s technique encourages gymnasts — 10 of whom are both presently or previously within the U.S. nationwide group system — to push the problem of their routines and contend for coveted spots within the lineup. Whereas this requires some early-season adjustment, the Cardinal’s postseason execution has helped the them fend off challenges from the nation’s different high groups. 

Glielmi emphasizes that in coaching and intra-squads (simulated competitions held on meet weeks to find out who will compete), your complete roster performs a task by pushing these forward of them to execute the most effective routine they’ll. The result’s a robust lineup on every of the six apparatuses and an equally deep bench. However the system additionally fosters reliance on a variety of athletes, particularly vital in a sport the place accidents are prevalent.

At this yr’s NCAAs, youthful members of the group have been pivotal. Sophomore Nicolas Kuebler and freshman Asher Hong earned particular person titles on ground and vault, respectively, whereas the Cardinal additionally racked up a dozen All-American nods. Stanford led from the primary rotation, finally topping the sphere by virtually 3 factors.

Three gymnasts pose while holding the Illinois, Georgia and Texas state flags.
Graduate scholar Matthew Szot, fifth-year Brody Malone and graduate scholar Ian Gunther pose at a house meet in opposition to Cal in March. Freshmen when Stanford gained the 2019 Championships, the trio has been on each group within the four-peat. (Photograph: GLEN MITCHELL/ISI Photographs)

5 years after beginning a “New Period,” the gymnasts who’ve been on all 4 championship groups are happy with their achievements, however maybe much more proud to see the usual they labored so laborious to set being upheld.

“It simply teaches you to be a group participant and to be a pacesetter,” Gunther stated of the group tradition. “Regardless of what number of occasions you’re competing, zero or six… it doesn’t matter. Everybody will get a hoop on the finish of the day once we win.”

After every season, Szot stated, most individuals discuss scores and titles. However what he’ll keep in mind most are his teammates.

“I feel a number of these guys are recognized for his or her gymnastics,” stated Szot, who was lately voted “Greatest Workforce Participant” by his friends. “However I feel in actuality, they need to be recognized for the character that they uphold and [what] unbelievable folks they’re… and the constructive affect that they’ve on the college, this program and your complete world.”

Glielmi agrees, crediting a lot of the group’s tenacity and cohesion to veterans Gunther, Malone and Szot, whose legacy he believes will persist lengthy after their commencement. 

Perhaps subsequent season, Glielmi stated, in the event that they tie Nebraska’s report of 5 consecutive NCAA Championships (1979-83), the Cardinal can begin pondering of themselves as a dynasty. However with a younger, proficient roster, they’re removed from accomplished and need to proceed drawing consideration to their typically neglected sport.

“We’ve bought some stallions within the stables nonetheless,” Glielmi stated. “So we’re gonna hold making an attempt to win championships.”

A earlier model of this text misspelled Nicolas Kuebler’s title. It has been up to date to replicate the proper spelling. The Each day regrets this error.