By Matthew Kipnis, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 2, 2014
While Senior Sam Mikulak was in Greensboro, N.C. winning the American Cup All-Around Title, the No. 2 Michigan men’s gymnastics team (10-0 Big Ten, 15-0 overall) took care of its own business by winning first place at the first ever Arnold Invitational.
Without two of their top gymnasts and head coach Kurt Golder, Mikulak, and Junior Adrian de los Angeles out due to a knee injury, the Wolverines remained undefeated beating four Big Ten teams and three top-15 teams, including Big Ten rival No. 3 Ohio State for the third time this season.
Michigan entered the final event with a commanding nine-point lead over Ohio State, but the Wolverines were struggling on the floor. The Buckeyes competed next to Michigan on high bar and the Wolverines were forced to watch Ohio State stick each of their landings – Ohio State’s first four gymnasts scored above 15 – and the lead dwindle.
“Seeing Ohio State stick dismount after dismount when we were on floor having a couple mistakes got me a little nervous,” said assistant coach Geoff Corigan. “(Graduate student) Syque (Caesar) went out and had a big set and one of their best (Jake Martin) had a meltdown falling off three or four times so at that point we knew we had locked it up.
“It is definitely good to go to Columbus and come out with a win, but I don’t think we saw the best Ohio State team that is available to compete and I don’t think they saw the best Michigan team we have either.”
Martin’s score of 11.4 clinched the victory for the Wolverines and allowed for Iowa to steal second place from the Buckeyes. Michigan took home individual-event wins in five of six events on the day.
The Wolverines returned to full-team competition for the first time since early February when they beat No. 11 Nebraska. The first ever Arnold Invitational was in construction with the Arnold Schwarzenegger Invitational. Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California, was in attendance to introduce the lineups for each team in front of a large crowd.
It was the first meet of the year for Michigan in the five on-five count format, where each score for a participating gymnast counts toward the overall team score. Before the match, each team was allowed to put six gymnastics on each event, but only the top five would count.
“There is always a little more pressure the moment we switch from a six-on-five count to a five on-five count,” Ceaser said. “Now, no matter what, if you fall you are going to have to count that score when before you had a little bit of a cushion and you could afford a mistake. Now you can’t.”
Michigan prepared for this format all season with the mindset that when a gymnast competes, they compete to count their score, never thinking about the safety of having a backup — a task made more difficult without Mikulak.
But competing without Mikulak is not new to the Wolverines. This was the third time this season they competed without the 2012 United States Olympian. Earlier in the season, against Nebraska and in the Windy City Invitational, Michigan was without it’s best gymnast.
“We always miss Sam because he is an amazing gymnast but also a positive influence on the team,” Corigan said. “Just having him there reassures a lot of the team that they are going to have someone who will score really well on a lot of the event.
“It is good sometimes when we play without him because it shows some of the guys in the five-up five-count scenario everyone is as important as anyone else. Everybody has to hit and if you have a miss the next one has to step up and make sure there is not a complete melt down.”
This was the first time Michigan was missing two of their top performers, though, providing a better display of Michigan’s depth.