Freshman gymnist overcomes fears to lead Illini charge

Freshman gymnist overcomes fears to lead Illini charge

Travis Romagnoli has posted scores such as 9.90 on the high bar and two 9.65s on parallel bars this season.

That's not bad for someone who admits he had to overcome a fear of both events early in his gymnastics career.

"In one of my first competitions I fell on my back from a handstand on the parallel bars," said the University of Illinois freshman all-arounder from Aurora, Ontario. "While I didn't get hurt, the fall really shocked me.

"The high bar was another competition that bothered me at first. It is one of the more spectacular events where you do a lot of release moves and catch the bar again.

"Those are two of my better events now. I just kept working on them until I overcame my fear. I never wanted to go into a competition being intimidated by an event. I would always do one of the two at the start of every practice."

Romagnoli's determination in those events is indicative of the work ethic that has impressed veteran Illini coach Yoshi Hayasaki.

"I've never seen a freshman compete as well as Travis," Hayasaki said. "He is very dedicated to training. As an all-around gymnast, he doesn't have a weak event. He's very consistent in all six events."

Romagnoli's consistency makes him one of the five or six favorites in the all-around event this weekend in the Big Ten Conference championships at the University of Minnesota.

Other top all-around performers in the conference include Duane Wilson and Drew Durbin of Ohio State, Mike Dutka of Penn State and Lalo Haro of Michigan. Wilson is the top-ranked gymnast in the country.

Romagnoli's other top performances this season include a 9.80 in floor exercise, 9.70 on pommel horse, 9.55 on still rings and 9.80 in vault. His top all-around score is 57.80.

Romagnoli said both he and the team can finish among the leaders this weekend.

"I'm really looking forward to this weekend," Romagnoli said. "I have total confidence that the whole team can compete.

"The Big Ten is a chance for us to get ready for regional competition. You have to prove yourself in gymnastics just as you do in any sport that is subjective to judging. You have to prove yourself doing well over and over in big meets to be recognized."

Hayasaki is shooting for a top three finish. This would be a major task with three schools ranked above the No. 10 Illini. Defending champion Ohio State is No. 1 in the nation. Iowa is No. 3 and Penn State No. 5.

"Our goal is to beat one of the three teams ranked above us to squeak into the top three," Hayasaki said. "Travis should do well in the all-around as well."

Romagnoli says his preparation for a meet like the conference championships is the same for both the team and individual competitions.

"It is just like a job," Romagnoli said. "The preparation and mind set are the same whether I'm getting ready for team or individual competition.

"I concentrate on every event. It is important that I contribute in every event. The one difference is that I have tried some moves for the first time in individual competition that I wouldn't try in team competition."

Romagnoli said he has a long way to go to reach his peak.

"I feel my peak performances will come my senior year when I'm 24," Romagnoli said. "I've improved a lot during my year here. I feel stronger and my confidence level is much higher.

"I'm also competing against more and a higher variety of athletes. Competing in a team situation where others are depending on my also helps me perform my best.

"The one thing I really need to improve is my strength. I work on conditioning every day.

"I'm also working on specific drills to improve on the rings. Rings is one of the more demanding events in terms of strength."

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