Senior Luke Bottke is already the tallest member of the Michigan men’s gymnastics team. But when the competition gets more difficult, he seems to become larger than life.
“Luke is a real good competitor,” Michigan coach Kurt Golder said. “As you approach a championship meet, some people get bigger, and some people get smaller. And when the competition gets bigger, Luke gets bigger.”
Even as a 6-year-old, Bottke was intrigued by gymnastics. Not only did he watch as many competitions as he could on TV, he also enjoyed doing flips off couches and performed cartwheels in the backyard.
Once Bottke began participating in organized gymnastics, he discovered his natural affinity for the floor exercise and vault, now his specialties.
“I grew up with a trampoline in my backyard,” Bottke said. “I know a lot of kids did, but I spent a lot of time on it. I’ve just always been pretty naturally acrobatic, somehow inclined for air sense and tumbling, knowing where the floor is underneath me, just having timing for that kind of stuff. Vault and floor are related; it’s the same type of thing.”
A less fortunate reason for Bottke’s status as a two-event specialist are repeated wrist injuries. The problem began with a stress fracture in his navicular joint that didn’t show up on X-rays.
Told by doctors he could practice as much as he could tolerate, Bottke almost broke the bone in half before having it checked again.
“If I would have taken a little bit of time off (when the wrist was first injured), it would have probably just healed, but I didn’t know that’s what I was supposed to do,” Bottke said. “Now it’s completely healed, (and) there’s a screw in the bone. It’s healed, (but) it’s just never going to be 100 percent.”
Since suffering the injuries, Bottke has learned to make everything he does in gymnastics count. Because of his wrist, he can’t perform unlimited repetitions of floor routines or vaults in practice, so he treats each one as if he’s in a competition.
Additionally, by competing in just two events, Bottke can put more concentration into perfecting his routines than an all-around gymnast is able to. He usually focuses on just one apparatus per day. Consequently, he doesn’t have much trouble with the pressure in meets.
“I know that the team relies on me, but I use that as motivation,” Bottke said. “I actually prefer to go up later in the lineup, to be the last one to go, because I like to go all-out and . to know that I’ve been able to put up a good score for my team. If anything, I feel more confident than if I was doing more events, because I have the opportunity to work on perfection and work on getting all my landings down, rather than having to worry about all these other skills on every other event.”
In early February, Bottke’s confidence received a further boost at the Winter Cup in Las Vegas. Competing against some of the best gymnasts in the country – including some Olympians – Bottke placed 12th on the vault and seventh on the floor exercise, Michigan’s highest finish by an individual.
“It feels really good, knowing I can compete and be in the top 10 with these guys,” Bottke said. “It takes a lot of weight off my shoulders for the rest of the season. It helps me build a lot of confidence for what’s to come.”