Cameron becomes Michigan's first Senior National Gymnastics Team member in 10 years

BY COLT ROSENSWEIG
Daily Sports Writer
Published February 8, 2009

Normally cool under any type of strain, sophomore Chris Cameron was palpably nervous as he stood on the floor of the Las Vegas Sports Center on Saturday night.

Along with the other 42 Winter Cup finalists, he listened intently to the announcement of the new members of the U.S. Senior National Team.

There were four spots left when the announcer said, “Chris …” Cameron’s leg flinched, and he almost stepped forward. “Brooks,” the announcer finished, naming a senior from Oklahoma.

Finally, just one spot remained.

“And last,” the announcer said, “from the University of Michigan … Chris Cameron.”

Cameron's teammates said the relief on his face was easy to see.

“It was the most exhilarating and unbelievable thing I’ve felt in my entire life,” Cameron said. “I could not believe what had happened. The way it happened, I wouldn’t change it in any way. But I was sweating.”

Cameron is the first Wolverine to make the National Team since current Michigan assistant coach Scott Vetere in 1999-2000. In Olympic years, members of the U.S. squad are chosen from the National Team.

And Cameron did it without a big score on the pommel horse, one of his premier events.

The Wolverines thought Cameron’s pommel horse routine was near-perfect, too. After two falls on the first day of competition, the sophomore nailed his set Saturday night.

When the score came up as a 13.05, everyone thought it was a mistake. Both his hit sets this season have earned 15.00 scores or better.

“That was the biggest garbage I’ve ever seen,” senior co-captain Phil Goldberg said. “Honestly, the first thing that popped into my head was that this was a scoring malfunction, they typed in the wrong number or something.”

But the score stood. And Cameron’s performances on his other specialties — floor, rings and parallel bars — and his ninth-place all-around finish put him on the National Team.

He thinks that in the next few years, some of his Michigan teammates will eventually join him there.

“You have to keep in mind that (sophomore) Thomas Kelley is a better gymnast than me, and so is (junior) Mel (Santander),” Cameron said. “They know they should be on National Team with me, so I think that’s going to push them so much more. It’s amazing, the way it’s turned out. I’m sure it’s going to be the most positive thing that’s happened in a long time with the program.”

Cameron wasn't the only one turning heads in Las Vegas.

Goldberg placed third overall on the still rings, edging out Cameron to stand on the podium. Santander bounced back from some rough sets on Saturday with his second outstanding pommel horse routine in two days of competition to finish fifth in the event. Fifth-year senior Paul Woodward came in seventh on the pommel horse. Kelley earned a sixth-place tie on high bar.

“I think that this was one of the best years that Michigan has had at Winter Cup,” said senior Ralph Rosso, who finished 13th on rings. “I think that we had some downs, some falls, but we picked ourselves back up and that’s what’s most important.”

As much as Cameron, Goldberg was a star in Las Vegas. Unlike most of his teammates, this was Goldberg’s first time competing in a USA Gymnastics event. He said he “lives for the big meets,” and that was especially apparent on Saturday night.

The crowd, except for the section of Michigan parents, didn’t make much noise for the Wolverines. But Goldberg was the final competitor on the still rings, and after his routine, all the spectators applauded him.

“It was perfect,” Kelley said. “We all think he won the meet. I think his rings routine tonight was by far the best in the competition. He’s going to win NCAA Championships if he can do a routine like that again.”

The Wolverines' overall performance should go a long way in boosting Michigan's national reputation.

"We represented Michigan real well," Goldberg said. "I think it bodes well for the present and also for the future, especially for recruits, because we had a good showing.”