When fifth-year senior Syque Caesar walked onto the mat for his parallel bars routine for the Michigan men’s gymnastics team Saturday, he did so as a captain, an Olympian and a national champion.
After sticking his dismount, Caesar jumped off the mat as a NCAA record holder.
Setting the NCAA record on parallel bars with a score of 15.90, Caesar eclipsed the previous record of 15.85, set in 2008.
However, setting the record was the last thing on Caesar’s mind as he prepared for the routine.
“Honestly, I was just trying to hit a decent, clean routine because we had a couple of falls before I went,” Caesar said. “I just wanted to contribute to the team.”
Even after finishing his routine and seeing the reaction from the fans and his teammates, Caesar still didn’t grasp what he had just accomplished.
“I didn’t think I beat the record,” Caesar said. “All I know is that when the score came up, I was just pretty amped and psyched about it. The whole team was coming up to me congratulating me. I was just pumped.”
Caesar credits a record board hanging in the gym as his main motivation. This board lists the Michigan gymnast with the highest score in each event. Under the parallel bar section, Caesar had been at the top with a score of 15.65 until the end of the last season when junior Sam Mikulak scored a 15.75 on the event. That score served a constant reminder to Caesar.
“I’ve been just staring at that all preseason long, and I’ve been mentally and sub-conciously thinking, ‘Man I really would like to tie that score or beat it,’“ Caesar said. “And luckily, it just happened this weekend. I wasn’t expecting it.”
Now, Caesar’s score will be the one serving as motivation for gymnasts on his team, as well as gymnasts from all over the country.
Competing with gymnasts from around the country is nothing new to Caesar, who competed for Bangladesh in the 2012 London Games.
Unfortunately for Caesar, he tore his left bicep just eight days before the Olympics were set to begin. Caesar had just recovered from a tear in his right bicep that ended his season that January. Despite this injury, Caesar still managed to compete in four events while in London.
“He was 4-for-4 on routines,” said Michigan coach Kurt Golder. “(That) was pretty incredible to be on that big stage when his last meet was back in January, and now here you are in July competing in the Olympic Games. And he rocked his routines.”
The Olympics were not just a competition for Caesar, but also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“My Olympic experience was everything I could have dreamed of and then some,” Caesar said.
Caesar was particularly impressed with the Olympic Village, where all the athletes stay.
“The biggest thing was, when you walk outside your apartment in the village, no matter who was around you, every person around you is an Olympian,” Caesar said. “You are just surrounded by Olympians from all over the globe. That was just a real cool experience just meeting all the different athletes.”
During the Games, Caesar was able to interact with U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay, men’s all-around gold medalist Kohei Uchimura as well as the “Fierce Five”, the gold-medal-winning United States women’s gymnastics team.
In addition to meeting other athletes, Caesar also attended other competitions such as diving, track and field and the gymnastics events.
In addition to the memories Caesar acquired while in London, he was able to take some valuable lessons back to Ann Arbor with him.
“In terms of gymnastics, I’ve just raised my personal standards, my gymnastics potential and where I want to be,” Caesar said. “My standards weren’t as high before, but now I have a better understanding of what is possible, and what I can do and how far I can go.”
The lessons and experiences he obtained during the Olympics, coupled with the Olympic experiences of fellow Olympian Mikulak, have helped out each gymnast individually, as well as their teammates.
This higher standard is apparent in the way the Wolverines carry themselves each day to the expectations and goals they have for themselves.
“No. 1 goal is not anything personal: it’s all about the team,” Caesar said. “We know exactly what our goal is. Our goal is to win the Big Ten team title and win the NCAA team title.”
If anyone knows how to lead his team to these goals, it’s Caesar. As a freshman, he was part of a Michigan team that took the Big Ten team title. This was followed up by a sophomore season that included a NCAA team title.
With this experience under his belt, along with his newly minted NCAA record, Caesar’s full attention will be on the team and helping it bring home some hardware this year.
“Everyone on the team is hungry to do that,” Caesar said.