Chase leaves Olympic hopes to chance at Visa Championships

Gophers gymnast Zack Chase will compete this week for a chance to make the Olympic trials.

Gophers gymnast Zack Chase vaults March 24 at the Sports Pavilion. Chase will compete at the Visa Championships this week for the opportunity to make the Olympic trials.

Mark Vancleave, File Photo

Gophers gymnast Zack Chase vaults March 24 at the Sports Pavilion. Chase will compete at the Visa Championships this week for the opportunity to make the Olympic trials.

Megan Ryan

With the rest of the Gophers men’s gymnastics team on summer vacation, Zack Chase goes to the gym every day at 2 p.m., practicing for a shot to make the U.S. national team — and possibly, the Olympics.

The junior will compete June 7 and 9 at the Visa Championships in St. Louis, for a berth to the Olympic trials. He earned a spot at the meet after competing at the U.S. national qualifier in May.

“There’s always an outside chance I could make the Olympic trials,” Chase said. “I’m not going out there expecting it.”

The vault specialist faces 42 other gymnasts at the national championships — from current national team members and former Olympians to fellow Big Ten competitors.

“It’s going to be fun to go out there and compete against … all these guys that are trying to go to the Olympics,” Chase said. “It’ll be fun to watch [and] see how I compare.”

The top 15 gymnasts after the Visa Championships will make the national team. Those 15 will then compete at the Olympic trials June 28 to July 1 in San Jose, Calif., for the five tickets to London.

“I think it’s going to be tough,” head coach Mike Burns said. “At this level, you’re up against the top guys in the country. … The key is do you go out there and realize you’re as capable of hanging with those big dogs, or do you become a little dog?

“If I know Zack, he’ll step up.”

In addition to being an underdog, Chase won’t have a team around to support him, Burns said.

“This is where it goes back to being a real individual sport,” Burns said.

Five of Chase’s Minnesota teammates also competed at the U.S. national qualifier, but none earned enough points to qualify.

Two incoming Gophers freshmen will compete in the junior session of the Visa Championships.

Paul Montague, Danny DiBenedetto and Michael Farquhar all qualified for the meet after their performance at the junior national championships in May. Farquhar exceeds the maximum age requirements, though, and will not compete.

“I’m excited to be competing against [DiBenedetto],” Montague said. “Hopefully, maybe, I can come out on top.”

DiBenedetto has two years of experience in the junior Visa Championships, while Montague will compete for the first time. Even with his experience, DiBenedetto said his goals remain the same.

“I still am going out to accomplish the same thing — trying to make top seven [and] get on the junior national team for my incoming freshman year,” DiBenedetto said.

While Chase won’t encounter either of them in competition and Burns will not coach them, both said they will still keep an eye on the future Gophers gymnasts.

“They’ll help us,” Chase said. “They’re strong in events where we’re weak right now.”

Minnesota’s 2012 season ended with disappointment when it failed to make the team finals at the NCAA championships after finishing fourth at the Big Ten championships. Chase said he is looking forward to the team improving over the summer.

“From my freshman year to sophomore year, we improved four to five points,” Chase said. “If we can do that again, that puts us in good contention.”