One day in late October, a freshman walked into the practice gym, just looking for a way to get back into gymnastics after two years away from the sport.
At the time, the Michigan men’s gymnastics team had no idea a secret weapon was falling into its lap.
David Chan, 21, is a Singapore native with an Australian accent. He spent the past two years doing mandatory military service in the Singapore army and navy, which left no time for keeping up with his gymnastics regimen. Chan chose to attend Michigan for its engineering program, unaware the University even had a men’s gymnastics team. Once he discovered the team, Chan stopped by to see if he might be able to work out.
“Well, not really,” Michigan coach Kurt Golder said. “There isn’t an open gym, and there isn’t a men’s club team, so really the only way is to try out for the team. Then if you make the team, you can work out.”
The freshman’s trial impressed Golder and the other coaches so much they knew right off the bat they had to have him for their squad.
Chan was immediately welcomed onto the team. Not only are the gymnasts a generally friendly group, but they know a quality competitor when they see one.
“The first time I saw him walk in the gym, I could just tell that he was going to be a good gymnast, just by the way he carried himself,” junior Paul Woodward said. “He carried himself like a champion.”
During first semester, Chan’s schedule was not formed around practice times. Much of the time he had to work out in the early morning, alone or with junior Arren Yoshimura, whose demanding architecture courseload also conflicted with practice.
His best event turned out to be pommel horse, adding more depth to the already strong lineup. He is also working on parallel bars, and hopes to break into the floor exercise and vault lineups in the future as well.
The process of getting back into peak gymnastics condition was slow and painful, but it paid off. The opening meet of the season found Chan in the starting lineup for pommel horse. He notched a score of 8.5 on the apparatus at the Windy City Invitational on Jan. 13, and posted an 8.35 against Oklahoma.
“I’ve never been part of such a big team,” Chan said. “The support everyone here has for each other – even at training – it’s encouraging how everyone is helping each other spot mistakes, teaching you what’s wrong.”
At 21, he is more mature than the average freshman; he is also very in tune with his body.
“The thing I like about David is he understands his body really well,” Michigan assistant coach Scott Vetere said. “He knows how to get in a hollow position. He thinks before he does the skill. You see him after he takes a turn – he focuses and goes over in his head what he needs to do. He goes through the movements a couple of times before he gets back up.”
And hardly anyone in the collegiate gymnastics community knows of Chan’s existence. He attended high school in Australia to pursue gymnastics further. So, other teams may underestimate Michigan’s strength – but not for long.
“He’s going to be our secret weapon,” sophomore Ryan McCarthy said. “Nobody really knows about him other than our team. . He’s going to contribute a lot this year.”