Cameron Bock stood at one end of the vault runway.
Eighty-two feet in front of him, the apparatus waited. Bock visualized his routine — his push-off from the table, the rotations in the air and the landing.
When the signal came for Bock to go, he took off running down the mat.
Bock launched himself from the springboard, pushed off the vault and twisted in the air. But somewhere in the process, things went awry. A split second after his heels made contact with the mat, so did his butt.
His score flashed. It was a 12.650, Michigan’s lowest vault score.
“I wasn’t really overall happy with how I did,” Bock said. “I had some good scores but then I fell on horse, I slipped on vault, got lost in the air. Definitely upset with those performances.”
Bock’s other error Saturday against No. 2 Oklahoma — the fall during his pommel horse routine — came two rotations before his imperfect vault landing.
While waiting for his signal to go, Bock took deep breaths and swung his arms in circles. He chalked his hands one last time, then mounted the horse. He traveled from side to side, swinging his legs over the pommels.
In the middle of his routine, he transitioned into a handstand. Bock spun a few times, then moved back into regular position. He worked on one of the pommels, circling his legs around it before switching to the other.
And that’s where things changed. In the process of moving from the pommel back onto just the horse, Bock fell off.
“It’s hard to come back,” Michigan coach Kurt Golder said. “A lot of people want to give up. Your goal is to hit six-for-six or to reach a certain score. As soon as you make a mistake, you know that’s not possible.”
But Bock immediately followed both of his flawed performances with strong routines.
After the pommel horse, the Wolverines rotated to the still rings. There, Bock hit his routine with little difficulty. Long forgotten were the troubles he’d experienced moments ago in his previous routine. None of them were evident in the execution of his skills on the rings.
Following Bock’s dismount, stuck landing and salute to the judges, his teammates embraced him. His efforts were enough to earn a 14.550 — the highest score of the meet on that event.
“It just comes down to thinking about one routine at a time, one skill at a time,” Bock said. “Especially at the level that I’m competing at, we’re doing too hard of routines to kind of get out of your zone and still hit them well. You’ve gotta focus on every skill, one at a time if you’re going to make it through the set.”
Bock answered for the error in his vault landing on the parallel bars. In what is traditionally his best event, he didn’t disappoint. Once again, he wasn’t haunted by his mistakes from the rotation before.
Working in between the bars, Bock performed exactly the way his team needed him to. His score — a 14.750 — was the highest score on the event for the meet, with the next closest gymnast receiving six-tenths of a score less than Bock’s.
“To pick yourself up and come back strong just says a lot for his character, his fortitude,” Golder said. “It’s the sign of a champion.”
When the meet ended, Bock’s errors hadn’t cost Michigan anything. It avoided counting his vault and on pommel horse, another Wolverine gymnast had scored lower than he had. In the end, they triumphed over the Sooners by almost eight points, 416.500 to 408.900. On the other side, both his event titles came directly following the rotations where he made mistakes, a strong testament to his mental toughness.
But moving forward, Bock will have to be better. He knows it. Not only because in the second part of the season, men’s gymnastics format changes and teams compete just five gymnasts leaving no room for scores to be dropped, but for his own personal goals, too.
Next week, Bock will compete at the Winter Cup — the qualifying event for the 2020 U.S. Gymnastics Championships. He’ll have a very small window for errors in his routines.
And if he does make a mistake, Bock will have to demonstrate the same resilience he did Saturday against Oklahoma.