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Men's Gymnastics Ranks 6th in Nation

By Van N. Van
Team Member

While most MIT student's were taking a respite from intense academic pursuits over the Patriot's Day weekend, the men's gymnastics team traveled to Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas to compete in the 1994 USA Gymnastics Collegiate National Championship. In the most intense meet of the season, the Engineers gave it their all and clenched the sixth position in the nation. First through third were College of William and Mary, U.S. Air Force Academy, and Springfield College, respectively.

In a bizarre twist of fate, the Engineers had what can be called one of their best and worst meets of the entire season. The Engineers came out with seven personal best performances in the competition, but they also came out with a major injury to one of their finest gymnasts, Andy Lobban '97.

The competition did not begin when the gymnasts stepped into the arena. It began the night before when the Engineers prepared themselves mentally for the intense ordeal that lay ahead. When they entered the stadium, they were ready and all fired up. After 10 rotations of timed warm-ups, the competition officially began.

The Engineers began on one of their highest scoring events, the vaulting horse. On this event, nearly all the competitors scored at or above an 8.0. Art Shectman '95 scored an 8.0 when he stuck his handspring vault, while Manuel Jaime '94 edged him with an 8.1. Chikyung Won '94 landed a handspring half twist for a score of 8.15. The high flying Robert Cooper '97 with his handspring front dazzled the judges and received an 8.5. The team was off to a great start, and the next event was about to begin.

The members once again focused themselves and mentally prepared themselves for the second rotation. MIT was on the parallel bars where gymnasts must show a multitude of variations. Won had some trouble with his first back toss, but regained his concentration and threw a second one close to perfection. Awed by the stamina and courage of the gymnast, the judges awarded him with a 6.85.

Scott "Lazerman" Lazerwith '95 once again showed that strength is his forte. With a beautiful one arm handstand and solid dismount, he earned his personal best of the season, a score of 6.9. Jaime also scored his personal best of 7.1. Lobban received an 8.3 for an extremely clean routine. But the most praise goes to Christopher Ellefson '95 who, despite an injury to his ankle in practice earlier in the week, scored the highest in the event. In the most ironic manner, Ellefson performs his best when he is injured. He leads the event with an 8.45.

The high bar, or pipe, is usually where the gymnasts end the competition. On this particular day, this was the third rotation. This was where the Engineers "tore" apart. With many form breaks and inconsistent executions, the scores were very low compared to the usual sevens and eights. Won, on the other hand, broke the streak when he caught his Tkatchov, a release element, and landed a "huge" double pike. Considering the difficulty of the routine, Won's score of 6.75 appeared a bit low.

Lobban was the last competitor for MIT and with Won's excellent performance, expectations were high that Lobban would be even more spectacular. After missing his Ginger, an extremely difficult release element, Lobban aggressively continued his routine and finished it with a near flawless double pike off the apparatus. When he landed, however, a cry of pain sprang from Lobban as he fell onto the mat. Apparently, he had hurt his knee somehow in the dismount and was immediately attended to by a doctor and trainers. The trainers diagnosed him to have torn his ACL, a common but serious injury in this particular sport. This placed Lobban out of the rest of the competition where his contribution to the team total would have greatly increased the team score.

With Lobban out, Van Van '97 was to replace him on the floor exercise, the fourth rotation. In his second floor competition of the season, Van scored his personal best of a 6.7. Won landed all his difficult elements and earned a score of 8.5. Cooper, despite the troubles he had in practice with his routine, pulled it together in the last possible moment and delivered a solid routine which earned him the top in floor exercise, an 8.55.

The next event, the pommel horse, has always been MIT's nemesis. Van, after just competing on the floor exercise, was up first. With a completely new routine develop just a week ago, Van was able to complete the entire combination with no falls and only a few slight breaks. With increased difficulty, Van scored his personal best of 5.0. Cooper once again did the best on the event with Thomas's Flares which earned him a 6.7.

With the competition was coming to an end, the gymnasts were all exhausted. The most exhaustive event, however, was the final one. On the still rings, strength and form are the most crucial elements. Jaime started the event with a sudden rush of energy. Hitting his elements slowly and one by one, Jaime held an iron cross for a score of 7.05.

The team was not anywhere near exhaustion. Cooper, with his famous facial expression, did his personal best on this apparatus, a score of 8.0. By this stage in the game, Cooper is usually "larried," a term he himself invented which means somewhere in the vicinity of being worn out. But at this meet, he came through with the most amazing routine. Holding all the position with perfect form and grace, he scored the highest for MIT during the meet and his personal best of 8.75, a hair away from making into finals.

With the contributions of Geoffrey Phillipe '95 and Brian Young '96, the final team score came out to be 205.65, a score which could have been higher had Lobban and Ellefson not injured themselves during and before the meet, respectively. Cooper scored a 45.60 for the all-around which is also his personal best.

In addition, five of the MIT squad -- Phillipe, Won, Ellefson, Lazerwith, and Jaime -- earned the title, USA Gymnastics Scholar Athletes, a standard of excellence in academics and athletics.

All-in-all, the team had a great meet and a great season. For now, the team looks ahead towards future prospects. Unfortunately, they will lose two of their finest next year. Both Won and Jaime will graduate this year and leave the MIT community. Lobban, with his injury, may not be able to compete during the first half of the next season. The team, however, remains optimistic about the future of MIT gymnastics. Despite all obstacles, the Engineers look forward to another great season to bring glory to MIT.