Strother fails to make Olympic cut

U.S. Olympic Gymnastics trials

Kent Erdahl

For four years former Minnesota gymnast Clay Strother practiced the same routines for the same two events.

But when Strother stepped up to perform his top two routines in front of the crowd packed into Arrowhead Pond for the U.S. Olympic trials in Anaheim, Calif., an unfamiliar thing happened – he didn’t execute. He wasn’t able to make the cut for the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team.

Strother had honed and perfected his form in the floor exercise and pommel horse through four NCAA national titles and a silver and a bronze medal in the Pan American Games.

As Strother neared his dream of making the U.S. team over the weekend, four years came down to four attempts.

Although he competed in the all-around competition Thursday and Saturday, Strother knew his success or failure hinged on his two attempts in his two best events. But he wasn’t able to score higher than 9.3 in the finals of either the floor or horse.

“It’s just one of those things that I can’t explain,” Strother said. “The routines went well in practice and they felt good in warm-ups. I just didn’t go in and get it done, and there wasn’t much I could do about it.”

Despite performing well in his other events, Strother finished 15th in the all-around and needed better marks in the floor and horse for a chance to travel to the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

A year removed from collegiate competition, Strother was one of the youngest gymnasts invited to the trials, and had he made the team, he would have likely specialized in floor and horse.

It’s not that Strother wasn’t capable. Gophers coach Fred Roethlisberger, who continues to coach Strother, expected him to be one of – if not the – best gymnast in the floor and horse just a week before.

“I feel really bad for him, but I don’t know what we could have done differently,” Roethlisberger said.

Strother said it was a thrill to be part of such a big event, but admitted he may have been intimidated by the size of the crowd and the format, which allowed only one competitor to perform at a time.

But Strother did not blame his sub-par performance on nerves. He faced large crowds in last year’s Pan American Games and his performances helped lead the United States to a bronze medal.

“We just picked a bad time to lay an egg,” Roethlisberger said. “All we can do is pick up the pieces and gear up for the future.”

Strother’s future may be a bit cloudy. He will spend the next year training alongside the Gophers, but he might be forced to find a new facility next summer when he enters graduate school.

Regardless of what happens a year from now, Strother knew exactly what to do after arriving back in Minnesota this weekend.

“I was in my office, and I was surprised when he came into the gym right away and started trying new tricks,” Roethlisberger said.

Although it might seem soon, Strother was just trying to get a jump on his next chance to make the Olympic Team. After the Olympic Games in Athens, the difficulty codes for routines will change, so Strother has begun working on new moves – something he certainly doesn’t mind after working on the same routines for four years.

“I was a little angry with how I performed,” Strother said. “So it was nice to put those routines behind me and work on something new.”

“He made some bad mistakes in his big events. He did fine in the others, but they weren’t going to get him on the team.”