UI men short on attention, long on talent

By: Joe Coughlin

By: Joe Coughlin

By: Joe Coughlin

By: Joe Coughlin

CHAMPAIGN – The main scoreboard at Huff Hall flashed the score of the Illini basketball game in the middle of Illinois'' gymnastics meet Saturday, but the crowd didn''t take its eyes off the mats.

Credit Yoshi Hayasaki''s second-ranked team for keeping their attention.

"We have a good crowd, there is no question about it," Hayasaki said. "We put on a good competition that people enjoy."

Bruce Weber''s top-ranked Illini are the headline act on campus, but Hayasaki''s gymnasts have been turning heads, too. And not just this season.

"It isn''t like we lost our spot," UI gymnast Justin Spring said. "We didn''t fall from the top. Gymnastics wasn''t once there and now it isn''t. Being a gymnast you grow up knowing it doesn''t get much recognition."

There are four major sports in America and gymnastics never has been one of them. Spring said his team talks about that and wonders why not gymnastics.

"I think it is just the fact it is complicated," he said. "It isn''t like basketball where you put the ball in the basket and get two points. The rules are hard to follow."

That was evident at this Summer Olympics with the Paul Hamm mishap.

"This isn''t a game," Hayasaki said. "There are no simple rules. It is even hard for the judges to get it right. But if the (Federation Internationale de Gymnastique) keeps making it more difficult to understand, there will be more problems."

Hayasaki said another reason fans don''t flock to see the gymnastics team – Saturday''s attendance was listed at 858 – is that the public perceives it as an individual sport.

"I don''t see it that way," he said. "We train together and compete together. This is a team sport."

And it''s successful at Illinois, which doesn''t need a packed gym to perform.

"We just go out and perform the best we can," said Spring, last year''s UI athlete of the year. "And we''ll take what we can get."

On a day reserved for senior recognition, the Illini men''s and women''s teams won Saturday.

Spring (floor, parallel bars, horizontal bar, all-around), Ben Newman (pommel horse) and Tyler Yamauchi (rings) won events in the men''s 221.550-209.450.

The meet was a final tuneup for the Big Ten and NCAA meets.

"To tell you the truth," Spring said, "these dual competitions don''t mean much. It all comes down to nationals. It is funny, that all this comes down to one day and you have to be ready."

Senior Lauren Newcomb put on a strong performance to win the all-around competition for the women in a 195-425-194.625 win. She also won vault.

Cara Pomeroy (balance beam, parallel bars), Kara Kapernekas (floor) also finished first for the Illini.

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