UI's Ribeiro riding high
CHAMPAIGN — It probably should come as no surprise that an Illinois gymnast won the Big Ten pommel horse title Saturday night at Huff Hall. Or that senior Daniel Ribeiro was the guy who did it.
The two-time U.S. champion and 2009 NCAA titlist in the event earned the third league crown of his career.
"Yesterday was a little more exciting because the team always comes first," Ribeiro said, referring to the No. 4 Illini claiming their third straight Big Ten team title. "But it is really exciting. Not many people can say that they've won Big Tens three times on an event."
Ribeiro's performance continued the UI's recent dominance in Big Ten pommel horse and put him in some truly exclusive company in conference history.
His win on Night 2 of the Big Ten Championships — when the individual event finals are contested — marked the seventh time in nine years that an Illini had captured the league crown in the pommel horse. In the process, the Chestnut Ridge, N.Y. native, became the fourth gymnast in the history of the meet to win three titles in the event.
"Wow, I had no idea." Ribeiro said. "That feels pretty amazing."
Two of the three previous pommel horse threepeaters also were Illini: Ben Newman (2003-05) and Harry Koehnemann (1939-41).
Ribeiro scored a 15.900 — 0.1 point shy of his school record — to take the league crown for the second straight year. He was seriously challenged only by Ohio State's Ty Echard (15.450), the only other pommel horse finalist to score in the 15s.
Ribeiro, who entered as the heavy favorite, said the pressure of such expectations is nothing new.
"Horse has been my best event forever, so I've been dealing with that 10 years," he said. "It's in me, it's nature, to deal with those things."
Ribeiro was joined at the top of the awards podium by teammate Chad Wiest. The fifth-year senior won his first Big Ten event title with a 15.400 in floor exercise. Jeff Treleaven of Ohio State placed second at 14.950.
The title was a long time coming for Wiest, who placed second in Big Ten floor exercise as a freshman,
"I thought it would get a little better after that," he said.
It didn't, Wiest suffering a broken arm while performing his floor routine the next year at the conference meet. The injury sidelined him the entire following season.
"So it's nice to get back here and finally win one," Wiest said.
The thought of losing these two veterans and school record-holders after this season already has Illini coach Justin Spring sweating.
"I'm looking at next year and I'm 'Oh, my God, what are we going to do without those guys?' They've done so much more than two ridiculously amazing scores on those two events," the repeat Big Ten Coach of the Year said. "Their leadership has been far more than just two scores.
"Chad, he went through some terrible injuries for a two-year span on his elbow. ... For him to finally come back, this (title) was more than deserved for him. Daniel just has been a rock on the most inconsistent event for us on pommel horse. And, man, we're going to miss that."
Two other Illini placed third: junior C.J. Padera in parallel bars (14.6) and freshman Jordan Valdez in high bar (14.450).
Ribeiro, Wiest and junior Tyler Mizoguchi were named to the All-Big Ten first team.