Shane Wiskus: national champion to Olympic hopeful

In the midst of a successful collegiate career, Wiskus is training in hopes of competing in the 2020 Olympics.

Sophomore Shane Wiskus poses for a portrait in Cooke Hall on Friday, April 30. Wiskus was named the Big Ten Gymnast of the Year for the second consecutive season and was the 2019 NCAA Men’s Parallel Bars champion.

Jack Rodgers

Sophomore Shane Wiskus poses for a portrait in Cooke Hall on Friday, April 30. Wiskus was named the Big Ten Gymnast of the Year for the second consecutive season and was the 2019 NCAA Men’s Parallel Bars champion.

Paul Hodowanic

At Shane Wiskus’ childhood home in Spring Park, Minnesota, he keeps a whiteboard. It’s not a calendar or a to-do list. It’s not meant for doodles or grocery items.

It’s motivation.

All it says is “448 days” — the amount of time before the 2020 Olympics begin in Tokyo. Wiskus hopes to be there.

“I’ve had those numbers on my board for four or five years now,” Wiskus said. “Obviously it’s been on my mind forever, so it would mean everything to me. It would make it all worth it.”

Fellow teammate Henry Meeker said, at one point, the Tokyo Olympics logo was the background of Wiskus’ phone. Meeker and Wiskus have known each other since first grade, when they began competing against one another. In high school, Wiskus transferred to Meeker’s gym and they have been teammates ever since.

“If he made it there, I think it would be a really good culmination of a very successful career for him,” Meeker said.

While the number on the white board is slowly dwindling, there are still many hurdles Wiskus must jump over to make it to Tokyo.

First comes the U.S. Championships. If Wiskus performs well, he will be added to the senior national team. A spot on the national team also earns Wiskus a chance to compete at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. At the trials, an Olympic selection committee chooses a select few gymnasts from the group to join the Olympic team.

Wiskus’ campaign to don the red, white and blue in 2020 is off to a strong start. Three weeks ago, the sophomore won the parallel bars NCAA championship, claiming the first national championship for the Gophers since 2014. He also finished in second in the all-around competition for the second consecutive year. It was a decisive turnaround after a disappointing qualifying round for Wiskus.

“I was thinking to myself that was the most mediocre competition I’ve ever competed in. Nothing was great. … I wasn’t happy with it,” Wiskus said.

Day two was a different story. “I had no pressure of doing well for the team; it was just me and my own gymnastics. I took it one skill at a time, one event at a time, and it did me very well.”

Wiskus earned three All-American honors, was named Big Ten Gymnast of the Year and was announced as a captain for the 2019-2020 season. Despite all his accomplishments, the road to the Olympics remains a steep climb.

“I believe it is possible for Shane [to make the Olympics],” head coach Mike Burns said. “But I believe it’s going to take a little bit more than he’s doing right now. I’m certainly not saying it’s not possible, but it’s going to be a battle and he’s got to be ready for the battle of his life.”

The sophomore will spend the summer training and continuing to increase the difficulty of his routines to prep for the stiff competition. He will return for his junior season as a national champion with six All-American honors and two Big Ten Gymnast of the Year awards in his first two seasons as a Gophers gymnast.

Wiskus will make a run at the 2020 Olympics, but his dream will not end if he does not hear his named called in Tokyo. Many successful Olympians in men’s gymnastics compete into their late 20s, sometimes even into their early 30s. Wiskus, currently 20, would be 25 during the 2024 Olympics in Paris, giving him another shot to compete.

“Even if it doesn’t happen in 2020, I’ve had a great time in the sport,” Wiskus said. “I’m still planning on going on another four years after this Olympics, so we will see where this road takes me.”