When I first re…

by Susan Filkins

When I first received the assignment of covering men’s and women’s gymnastics for the Daily, I was both excited and a bit hesitant. I knew only a couple minor details about Gophers gymnastics.
One, I knew there was an Olympic gymnast named John Roethlisberger who once went to Minnesota, and two, I had heard about some girl named Mindy Knaeble who was supposed to be pretty good.
I was pretty naive about gymnastics. Both things that I knew were true, but I had a lot to learn.
Covering gymnastics can be a challenge when you don’t fully understand the sport. I remember watching the women practice for the first time in awe over the extreme control they possess over their body movements.
Women’s collegiate gymnastics is vastly different from the Olympic level where the women are 12 to 15 years old and all under 5 feet tall. The women at Minnesota impressed me with the fact that they are beyond their peak and still able to perform difficult gymnastics.
When I first talked to Gophers coach Jim Stephenson, he informed me about the increasing popularity of women’s gymnastics at Minnesota and the improvement over the years.
I watched the women’s team break most of their own records over the course of the season and eventually qualify for the NCAA championships for the first time ever as a team.
I remember sitting at the computer at the Daily on a Sunday afternoon waiting to hear from Coach Stephenson after the regional competition. Just looking at the results, I didn’t think they had made it to the NCAAs.
Their 10th place finish at the NCAAs was the highest the team had ever been ranked before.
Covering the men’s team was an entirely different story. The first day I walked into the gym over Christmas break, I realized I should not have worn black. The Cooke Hall Gym is probably the smallest gym anywhere in the world and white chalk dust gets on everything.
I usually positioned myself near the side of the gym. I didn’t dare stray too far from there because I feared I would get hit by a flying gymnast.
I recall watching them work out on the equipment for the first time in astonishment. The tricks that these guys can do on different pieces of apparatus are simply amazing.
The team improved greatly over the season. I remember receiving their low team scores from their first couple of road trips. The season was not going too well in the eyes of Gophers coach Fred Roethlisberger.
I think the turning point came when the Gophers nearly defeated No. 1 Ohio State at the Sports Pavilion in March. The team gained a world of confidence after the meet.
The end of the year did not turn out as they had hoped. Ranked seventh heading into NCAA regionals, the Gophers failed to qualify for the NCAAs.
Covering the men’s team was sometimes a challenge. When you don’t know much about a sport, it’s hard to comment on whether the routine was solid or not. Throughout the season, though, I got a little better at noticing faults and hits when they happened.
Throughout the season, I came to understand how much of a family these guys are. Whether it was watching accident-prone Chad Conner take a fall, listening to junior George Beatty crack a joke with his teammates, or sophomore Dan Boots attack the pommel horse (the event he most despises), these guys endured everything together.
Although I will not be back to cover gymnastics next year, I have become a fan of the sport and hope to get the chance to watch the teams compete next season.