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SportsMonday Column: Life beyond the Olympic rings

By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 23, 2013

Draped outside an apartment window high above Olympic Village, two flags fluttered silently, lifted and tossed by a brisk London breeze. One flag bore the green and red of Bangladesh; the other, Michigan’s block ‘M.’

Syque Caesar sat inside that apartment, perched on the edge of his checkered Olympic bedspread, and tried to somehow explain how he got there. The weight of the essence of the Olympics was swiftly sinking in: performing for pride, for family, for country. He simply couldn’t grasp it then, not there in Olympic Village, with world-class athletes behind every door, around every corner.

Now, six months after Caesar — now a senior on the Michigan men’s gymnastics team — junior gymnast Sam Mikulak and junior swimmer Connor Jaeger returned from competing in the 2012 London Olympics, they are steering top-three programs at Michigan that are in line to make serious national-title runs.

With their eyes firmly on that prize, the trio paused for just a day last week to relive its journey from student-athlete to Olympian and back again last summer.


Quazi Caesar didn’t even try to wipe away the tears washing down his face. He was beaming, too, as he watched from the stands as his son, Syque, entered behind the Bangladesh banner during the opening ceremonies at Olympic Stadium.

The 21-year-old gymnast, one of five individuals representing Bangladesh at the Games, was captured by BBC cameras and broadcasted to the world — his arms spread wide, a charming smile splashed across his face.

With his son circling the track below, Quazi, a former member of the Bangladesh national soccer team, could relate. Even as it played out in front of him, he could hardly believe the arc of his son’s journey to London.

It was during a routine trip to the mall in Port Saint Lucie, Fla. in 1996 that Quazi noticed a flyer for gymnastics training. He asked if his son wanted to give it a try, and the 6-year-old quickly agreed. A decade later, when the son had a falling out with a club coach, Quazi stepped in.

“You know what?” Quazi asked. “I’ll coach you.”

Caesar still smiles at the memory.

“Over the next two years, I basically taught him how to coach me,” Caesar said. He would show his father YouTube videos and tell him, “I’ve got to do this, and it’s got to look just like that. Just be a spectator, and if it doesn’t look like that, then tell me how to make it look like that.”

And it worked out just fine, didn’t it? For Quazi, that’s one student taught ... and one student sent to the Olympics.

“That’s 100 percent!” Mikulak chirped from across the table. Caesar nodded, stooped his head and grinned. Finding a coach was never his biggest roadblock, though.

Caesar’s road to London all hinged on an e-mail.

After making headlines on New Year’s Eve 2011 by earning the first gold medal in Bangladesh international gymnastics history at an event in Tokyo, Caesar was approached by representatives of the National Olympic Committee of Bangladesh, who asked Caesar if he would consider representing Bangladesh as an individual performer at the Olympics since the country does not field a full team.

He readily agreed, and the paperwork was sent to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In April, Caesar finally got the email. The IOC had approved him.

Nearly recovered from a tear of the long head of his right bicep, Caesar, training in Ann Arbor, tore the long head of his left bicep just a week before London. (“That’s a pretty important thing to have,” he said.) The injury kept him from performing on the pommel horse and the rings, but he was still able to compete on four apparatuses.

In qualifications, Caesar landed all four of his events, taking 27th on the parallel bars, 29th on the floor exercise and 50th on the horizontal bar.

“4-for-4 at the Olympics? I couldn’t be any happier,” he said.

His words lingered in the air just a moment longer this time as he thought back to the flag draped outside his window. He wasn’t just representing himself, his family or even his country.

“I can honestly say that if I didn’t come to this university, there’s no way I’d be able to be at the Olympics,” he said. “I took the block ‘M’ with me all the way to London and made that visible.