The brutal nature of gymnastics does not appear on the parallel bars or pommel horse, but rather in the seats of the judge’s table. It’s the judge’s discretion which controls who will be a champion.

“Judges determine the outcome, not the athletes’ performance,” Michigan coach Kurt Golder said. “Our sport is judged subjectively. Regardless of individual performance, somebody else is going to determine the victor.”

The men’s gymnastics team will be competing at the Big Ten Championship in Columbus this weekend – a tournament that has traditionally been fruitful for the Maize and Blue.

“But at Big Ten’s it’s real fair,” Golder said of the judging.

He emphasized that Columbus will be neutral ground, as each representative state will bring two judges.

“Ohio State will just have the crowd advantage.”

Amassing 14 Big Ten championships in the program’s history, the Wolverines won back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1999 and 2000 and finished as runner-up the last two seasons. The No. 6 Wolverines (8-7 overall) are ultimately looking to prepare for the upcoming NCAAs with a strong performance this weekend. The Big Ten is loaded with talent, as all six of the competing schools are ranked nationally in the top 10: Penn State (No. 2), Ohio State (No. 3), Illinois (No. 5), Minnesota (No. 7) and Iowa (No. 8).

“A finish in the top three would be very good,” Golder said. “We’re not at full strength, so I don’t know if we can win it or not. But we do have seven individual champions in the lineup, which no other team can equal.”

The Wolverines have not been at full strength much this season, but the return of senior Kris Zimmerman should enhance the team’s chances.

“Adding a former national and Big Ten champion on the parallel bars back into the lineup should be a big boost to our team,” Golder said.

Zimmerman is returning to the lineup after competing in just two meets due to nagging back problems. He will be limited to competing in just three of the six events. In addition to the parallel bars, he is expected to participate in the vault and horizontal bar.

Although he has not yet won a title in the horizontal bar, Zimmerman is a former national runner-up.

“He’s not at 100 percent,” Golder said. “If he was, his insertion could have been monumental, because then we would have him for (the pommel horse, still rings and floor exercise) as well.”

As a team, Michigan will be competing at about 80 percent, thus the strength of the Big Ten could prove to be too much.

“We’ve gotta perform at 100 percent to do a good job,” Golder said. “Then where we end up, we end up. We’ve had a lot of (tough times). The ball’s been bouncing against us and not with us. But if the (other teams) have just one bad event, we’re right in it.”

Possibly overlooked this year has been senior Conan Parzuchowski. Nationally he is ranked in the top-five on the still rings and has lost just twice this season (once to the defending national champion). His other loss my have occurred controversially at Penn State, where the judge’s discretion may have robbed the senior.

“It was a home meet for Penn State,” Golder said plainly of the outcome. “He had performed very well.”

Hopefully, for the Wolverines, there will be no need to have the judges on their side and the teams experience will propel it to being crowned Big Ten champions.

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