Four-time NCAA champ gears up for all-round title

Sam Campanaro

Country music was playing in the Cooke Hall gym before men’s gymnastics practice. Clay Strother and his teammates were kicking around a volleyball, ready to start their workout.

The two-time NCAA champion on both the pommel horse and floor exercise loves country music. But he didn’t get to listen to it for very long because coach Fred Roethlisberger turned it off.

Strother has a reason for liking country music: he’s from Jasper, Texas. And it was in his hometown where Strother found also enjoyment – and success – in gymnastics.

“I’ve always been a small guy,” Strother said. “I tried soccer and baseball and footballÖI tried to stick with something I could be good at.”

He might be one of the few members of the team who likes country music, but Strother redeems himself with sterling performances.

Already a four-time national champion, Strother is aiming for more in this, his final season. His coach sees Strother as the catalyst for Minnesota’s overall success.

“With Clay being one of our best gymnasts, we’ve been trying to build up to this year,” coach Fred Roethlisberger said.

Strother’s accomplishments over the past two seasons leave him with a lot to live up to. He is focusing on gaining consistency in his stronger events (still rings, vault, pommel horse, and floor exercise) and adding difficulty to his weaker events (parallel bars and horizontal bar).

“I think right now it’s just getting the events I’m really good at consistent and then upping the difficulty in my other events and to be a better all-around gymnast,” Strother said.

If he can stay focused in practice and keep on hitting his routines, Strother will be able to reach his goal of winning the NCAA all-around title this year.

Roethlisberger hopes to send the team to the NCAA finals, but with the loss of Eric Steele and Bill Callahan, individual titles might be all his athletes achieve.

After the NCAA season is over, Strother will start focusing on the World Team trials and then on to the 2004 Olympics. Competing on the national stage would link Strother to one of his role models ñ Minnesota great John Roethlisberger.

Even in Jasper, Texas, the name John Roethlisberger was heard. When Strother first came to Minnesota, he had the privilege of seeing Roethlisberger train.

Roethlisberger was in the midst of preparing for his third Olympic games and the two were able to work together during Strother’s freshman year.

“I think Clay’s definitely got the talent, it’s if he’s got drive within him and the fire to push himself to the next level,” Roethlisberger said.

Strother hopes to take his gymnastics career as far as he can, as long as the opportunities are available to him. That could mean continuing to compete or possibly coaching.

“If the opportunities are there I’ll definitely do it,” Strother said. “I feel like this sport has given me so much that I owe something back to it.”

Not bad for the Texan just trying to stick with something he’s good at.

Sam Campanaro welcomes comments at [email protected]