The plane skidded along the runway and came to a slow stop. Coach Kurt Golder and his No. 5 Michigan men’s gymnastics team were back in Ann Arbor after the team’s disastrous weekend at West Point for the NCAA Championships. Driving home from the airport, it was all clear to Golder how the team slipped up this past weekend.
Even though he never mentioned any lingering problems the team had with its practice regimen during the season, it was clear that the Wolverines’ lack of focus and training throughout the summer and then into the preseason caused them to come up short in the postseason. Michigan finished in third place at the Big Ten Championships and then sixth at the NCAA Championships.
With the cool spring breeze passing through his car, Golder could only wonder how he didn’t see this coming at the beginning of the season when the team was predicting winning a national championship.
“They weren’t focused enough on the right things,” Golder said. “Many guys were distracted with other priorities, and they weren’t training hard enough throughout the summer. That’s what hurt us, and that’s what caught up with us. We didn’t prepare well, and we didn’t perform well, and that’s when cutting corners catches up to you.”
Golder eluded to the fact that while other teams spent their summer in the gym, working on their mechanics and tweaking the routines they would later execute perfectly during the season, the Wolverines were instead distracted, and that failure to prepare came back to bite them in the rear. While Golder understands the seniors’ discontent in never winning a national championship, he knows they could have trained harder despite the team’s early season success. Golder felt that, after winter break, the gymnasts came down with a bad case of senioritis and never seemed to recover, costing them their much-coveted championship rings.
“They are very disappointed,” Golder said. “There is a legacy here at Michigan, and they graduated without getting a ring. The class that preceded them had two or three of them, but it’s the lack of preparation and the lack of focus. What are you doing in August? Are you outworking all of your competitors? Because they certainly weren’t.”
By the time Golder reached his driveway, he understood there was nothing more he could have done during the season to give the Wolverines that extra edge they were missing at the NCAA Championships. As Golder put the car into park and shut off the engine, he knew he had wanted to see the team succeed and dominate their competition, but that never happened. And his six graduating seniors will leave Michigan never breathing the air at the top of the podium.
“I look at the difference between how our team was training mid-summer compared to the teams that dominated at nationals,” Golder said. “I just don’t think our focus was on the target 12 months out of the year. I can’t require them to come to the gym. It’s voluntary practice from this point forward, and, if they don’t come, there is nothing I can do and it’s up to them.”
Despite Golder’s feelings about the team’s dedication, senior Eddie Umphrey instead looked at the positive, recalling the many personal goals he accomplished while at Michigan — regardless of never winning a national championship.
“I remember walking in here freshmen year and saying, ‘I have to be an All-American,’” senior Eddie Umphrey said. “Then walking into this season, I told myself I had to be an All-American or my time here at Michigan has meant nothing. I had just one shot to do it on floor, and I just told myself I have to be perfect, and I was. Then to end my career with a bunch of Big Ten and NCAA medals — it’s just a great feeling.”