Ian Gunther can inform you precisely how the championship streak started—with an opponent’s inconceivable fall.
Gunther had simply chalked his arms in preparation for a routine on rings. Going into the ultimate rotation of the 2019 NCAA Males’s Gymnastics Championships, Stanford trailed four-time defending champion Oklahoma by almost 4.5 factors. To bridge the hole, Gunther and his teammates wanted near-perfect execution and a few assist from the Sooners, who have been throughout the fitness center finishing their lineup on excessive bar.
The then-freshman wasn’t watching his competitors, however he heard Oklahoma standout and future Olympian Yul Moldauer’s identify being introduced. Subsequent got here a collective gasp from the spectators. “I’m clearly specializing in my routine, however I knew he fell,” Gunther recalled. “I knew he tousled, and in my head I’m like, ‘Alright, I feel they simply opened the door proper there.’”
And so he took benefit of it.
“I did the very best routine in my life,” he mentioned. The Cardinal narrowly outscored Oklahoma to seize their first NCAA title since 2011.
Eight months earlier, the crew decided to defy the percentages. In a preseason coaches’ ballot, Oklahoma obtained 19 of 20 first-place votes. Stanford, coming off a disappointing 2018 season, obtained just one, which was forged by its head coach, Thom Glielmi.
Because it turned out, Glielmi’s gymnasts have been simply getting began. They’re underdogs not, having bested No. 3 Michigan final month to say their fourth nationwide title in as a few years. Their 2022-2023 outcomes have been so dominant—a second straight convention championship and quite a few particular person accolades—that few outdoors the crew understand what number of obstacles have been overcome on the trail to a four-peat.
And in a collegiate athletic panorama upended by NIL and the switch portal, the lads’s gymnastics program has given Stanford Athletics a constant success story amidst the ups and downs of its extra high-profile groups.
The Cardinal’s defiant run stemmed from a 2018 preseason journey, time spent introducing the frosh to expectations and selecting a crew mantra: “New Period.” (This yr’s motto: “Set the Customary.”) Hours spent collectively, out and in of the fitness center, developed a powerful tradition.
“I do know that after they go and compete, I belief them with my whole life,” Matthew Szot ’22 MS ’23 mentioned of his teammates. “And I do know that they’re going to do precisely what they’ve been coaching for and precisely what they’ve been working for.”
The 2018-2019 crew was comprised of skilled upperclassmen and a extremely touted freshman class. Amongst them have been future All-People, nationwide crew members, and an Olympian and world champion. 5 years later, Szot mentioned, not a single athlete on the roster is aware of what it’s prefer to lose in NCAA crew competitors.
10 seniors graduated after final yr’s third consecutive championship, and solely three elected to compete for one more season. Added to this upheaval was the stress of Stanford’s current dominance.
“Having that concentrate on on our again, I feel proper off the bat, from a psychological and emotional perspective, I feel that’s rather a lot, particularly on our youthful guys,” Szot mentioned.
The crew was additionally suffering from lingering and new accidents throughout the season. In a single 24-hour interval in March, two gymnasts sustained season-ending accidents, together with fifth-year Brody Malone, a two-time NCAA all-around champion, nationwide champion, 2020 Olympian, and world champion who was injured whereas competing in Germany with the nationwide crew.
Lacking athletes like Malone who have been anticipated to compete in 5 or 6 rotations come NCAAs, Glielmi seemed to gymnasts farther down the lineup to fill within the gaps because the Cardinal pursued its sixth nationwide title throughout his 21 seasons heading this system. On the championship meet hosted by Penn State, 14 crew members have been known as on to finish two routines every on common.
“After they had the chance, they have been prepared they usually embraced it they usually took benefit of the chance to be in a lineup,” mentioned Glielmi, who coached the 2020 Olympic crew. “They usually did their job.”
Stanford gymnasts “hit,” or efficiently executed, 27 of 30 routines at NCAAs this yr, Glielmi mentioned, a efficiency which speaks to their rigorously constructed crew tradition through which every athlete is built-in and accountable.
Past the team-oriented mentality, Glielmi’s technique encourages gymnasts — 10 of whom both presently are or have been within the U.S. nationwide crew system — to push the problem of their routines and contend for coveted spots within the lineup. Whereas this requires some early-season adjustment, their postseason execution has helped the Cardinal fend off challenges from the nation’s different prime groups.
Glielmi emphasizes that in coaching and intra-squads (simulated competitions held on meet weeks to find out who will compete), your entire roster performs a job by pushing these forward of them to execute the very best routine they’ll. The result’s a powerful lineup on every of the six apparatuses and an equally deep bench. However the system additionally fosters reliance on a variety of athletes, particularly essential in a sport the place accidents are prevalent.
At this yr’s NCAAs, youthful members of the crew have been pivotal. Sophomore Nicholas Kuebler and freshman Asher Hong earned particular person titles on ground and vault, respectively, whereas the Cardinal additionally racked up a dozen All-American nods. Stanford led from the primary rotation, in the end topping the sphere by virtually 3 factors.
5 years after beginning a “New Period,” the gymnasts who’ve been on all 4 championship groups are happy with their achievements, however maybe much more proud to see the usual they labored so exhausting to set being upheld.
“It simply teaches you to be a crew participant and to be a pacesetter,” Gunther mentioned of the crew tradition. “Regardless of what number of occasions you’re competing, zero or six…it doesn’t matter. Everybody will get a hoop on the finish of the day once we win.”
After every season, Szot mentioned, most individuals discuss scores and titles. However what he’ll bear in mind most are his teammates.
“I feel plenty of these guys are recognized for his or her gymnastics,” mentioned Szot, who was lately voted “Greatest Staff Participant” by his friends. “However I feel in actuality, they need to be recognized for the character that they uphold and [what] unimaginable folks they’re…and the optimistic influence that they’ve on the college, this program and your entire world.”
Glielmi agrees, crediting a lot of the crew’s tenacity and cohesion to veterans Gunther, Malone and Szot, whose legacy he believes will persist lengthy after their commencement.
Possibly subsequent season, Glielmi mentioned, in the event that they tie Nebraska’s report of 5 consecutive NCAA Championships (1979-83), the Cardinal can begin considering of themselves as a dynasty. However with a younger, proficient roster, they’re removed from finished and need to proceed drawing consideration to their typically missed sport.
“We’ve bought some stallions within the stables nonetheless,” Glielmi mentioned. “So we’re gonna hold making an attempt to win championships.”