Sophomore Kent Caldwell does something that no other male gymnast in the world does.
But listening to him talk about his signature skill, you could be excused for thinking it’s not that big a deal.
Ironically, the quad – four complete twists in the air on floor exercise – is a natural progression from the trouble he had landing three and a half twists during his senior year of high school.
“I tried a three-and-a-half, and I just sat it down, landed short,” Caldwell said. “Then I figured if I was landing at that angle for a three-and-a-half, if I finished the four (twists), then I’d be standing up. It’s easier to save.”
Caldwell, who was named to the 12-member preseason All-Big Ten team, was required to have the skill evaluated by judges before he could use it in competition – it wasn’t even included in the Code of Points. He performs the quad in his first floor pass in every meet, and with each repetition, it improves.
“I’ve tried to do triple fulls, so one less twist than (Caldwell), and I can’t even come close to doing it,” said fellow sophomore Scott Bregman – another floor standout who took second place in the event at the Jan. 13 Windy City Invitational. “Four is unbelievable. (It’s comparable to) maybe differential calculus, just something ridiculous, when people can do it whenever they want.”
As if excelling in gymnastics isn’t impressive enough, Caldwell is also artistically gifted. Both art and gymnastics have been his passions since he was about 5 years old. He will graduate with a degree in art (along with neuroscience), and is also involved with WeRead, a student publishing group.
All the books the group publishes are written, illustrated, submitted and edited by Michigan students. WeRead has a partnership with a small publishing company that prints 500 copies of the winning book, chosen each year. The books are then donated to Detroit schools to build their library collections.
Last year, Caldwell illustrated a book written by another student. This year, he is the program’s lead illustrator.
One of his abstract paintings even hangs in his teammates’ house. But Caldwell is one of the last people who would let that go to his head.
“I’m humbled by it,” Caldwell said. “I think it’s cool that they appreciate it enough to put it up.”
Like art, executing a successful quad requires tremendous effort and meticulousness.
“You can’t afford to mess it up very much,” Caldwell said. “It has to be pretty much the same every time. (That’s) the difference – if you do a full twist, you’ve got this big range where you can take off and still land it fine. And then (with) the double full, and the triple full (the range gets smaller), and then the quad gets very precise.”
The Charlotte, N. C., native – in addition to being one of Michigan’s top competitors on floor and vault – is also something of a mediator on the team.
“As a person, I feel like he’s really good at being a moderator and being neutral,” Bregman said. “If people are having impulsive reactions to something, he can calm you down, listen to both sides, and kind of make you see from the other point of view.”
Caldwell’s season began well, with a solid performance at the Windy City Invitational followed up by a record-breaking routine against Iowa (9.7). And with every meet, he should give new meaning to artistic gymnastics.