Mannon leads Minnesota into Big Ten championships

Ellis Mannon has not won on the pommel horse in the last two years.

David Nelson

Since his sophomore year ended, junior Ellis Mannon hasn’t been able to clinch the top spot.

Mannon took second on the pommel horse at the 2013 Big Ten meet, the 2013 NCAA meet and the 2014 Winter Cup.

And even though he put up a big score of 15.95 on the apparatus at the 2014 Windy City Invite, he again fell just short of a title.

“I don’t feel like a second-place guy,” Mannon said. “It motivates me. I know I’m capable of beating all the people who beat me.”

This weekend’s Big Ten meet will serve as a perfect chance for Mannon to avenge those losses, all of which have come at the hand of conference

Ohio State senior Michael Newburger defeated Mannon at the 2013 NCAA meet and at this year’s Windy City Invite. And Penn State junior Craig Hernandez handed Mannon losses at last year’s Big Ten meet and at this season’s Winter Cup in Las Vegas.

Though some might build rivalries, Mannon said the rapport is strong among the athletes.

“We know what it’s like of getting up and trying to complete a pommel horse set,” Mannon said. “We all understand it’s a challenge.”

Newburger, the reigning NCAA champion, arguably represents Mannon’s toughest foe this weekend.

Though Mannon said he’d like to improve his second-place finish from last year, he understands the Ohio State senior’s talent.

“[Newburger is] a world-class pommel horse swinger,” Mannon said. “If I don’t win, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

While pommel horse remains Mannon’s best event, the junior will compete in all six events this weekend.

Unlike many college gymnasts, Mannon was able to continue performing in every event rather than become an event specialist.

“I feel like all-around is what gymnastics is all about,” Mannon said. “It’s always been a personal goal to compete all-around as a collegiate gymnast for the Gophers.”

Minnesota senior Zack Chase, unlike Mannon, is an event specialist on the team, competing exclusively on vault, floor and still rings. Chase, the 2011 Big Ten co-champion in vault, missed last season’s Big Ten meet and will try to cap off his senior year on a high note this weekend.

“I’d like to hit my three routines to the best of my ability this weekend,” Chase said. “Then hopefully the team does well.”

With six teams from the Big Ten ranked eighth or higher in the national rankings, the team finals could have a pre-NCAA feel.

Gophers head coach Mike Burns said he thinks the Big Ten meet is a better meet than the NCAAs.

“It’s the emotion of it,” Burns said. “When you come to a college program, you’re wearing maroon and gold, bleeding maroon and gold.

“It creates this sense of ‘I need to step up for my team.