Music the secret ingredient for the Wolverines' success on beam

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By Marina Nazario, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 22, 2015

Destiny’s Child’s smash hit “Survivor” blasted through the speakers of Crisler Center as Michigan women’s gymnast Sachi Sugiyama mounted the beam. She didn’t know that the song was going to play, but she performed her routine on the raised platform without hesitation.

And when Rascal Flatts played on the speakers, sophomore Nicole Artz stuck her dismount and earned a rare 10 from the judges after a near-perfect routine on balance beam. Her total score of 9.950 was a career best.

The balance beam has been the Wolverines’ most consistent event this year. Despite a loss to No. 1 Oklahoma on Friday, the Wolverines earned a high score of 49.300 and swept the top five spots on beam.

“I take it one event at a time and try to do what I do in the gym every day,” Artz said. “Earning a 10 was really overwhelming, but also very exciting at the same time.”

In a sport that is both physically and mentally challenging, Michigan gymnasts say the music gives them the extra boost they need to compete.

While each event consists of individual performances, the balance beam is different in that each gymnast is allowed to play a song on the speakers during her routine. The routine on the beam doesn’t have to go with the music, but it’s an added benefit that calms some gymnasts down. Each competitor picks a song at the beginning of the year that they choose to play at each meet. For some it’s country, for others it’s “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea. But that’s not the case with Sugiyama.

“Every meet, I ask one of my teammates to pick my beam song for me,” Sugiyama said. “I won’t know what the song will be until I start my routine.”

And the unorthodox method has helped Sugiyama return to the beam, where she hasn’t competed since her freshman year. But after her two-year hiatus from the event, Sugiyama has slowly regained her confidence on the beam and become one of the team’s top competitors in the event.

“Junior year was my main building year for beam. I gained a lot of confidence on it and became more consistent,” Sugiyama said. “It’s been a four-year process, building up the confidence I have now, but it’s paying off.”

Friday, Sugiyama competed a clean routine on beam, earning a score of 9.825 to place third in the event. While she doesn’t know what song will play on the speakers before she competes, she trusts herself enough to execute a confident performance.

“We have a team this year that is mentally tough,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “They practice both the physical and mental side of each routine.”

Because of the mental aspects of the sport, building confidence and muscle memory helps prepare each gymnast for peak performance. Balance beam has quickly become the Wolverines’ best event, proving each week that mind-body preparedness is paying off. But it would be hard to mention the Wolverines’ success on the beam without also mentioning their song selection.