URBANA – If Justin Spring has his way, he'll spend Thanksgiving in Australia.
"I'll be having turkey dinner over in Melbourne if it all works out," the Illinois gymnast said.
I had a short but highly successful career as an Illini men's gymnast. In 1988, I was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year after winning the league's all-around and pommel horse titles. I also was an All-American that year in the pommel horse. Those feats were a prelude to my making the 1988 U.S. Olympic team. I also competed in the '92 Olympics and was a five-year member of the U.S. National Team. In 1989, I helped the Illini repeat as Big Ten champs and win the NCAA crown. After that I continued my college career at Temple, winning the 1992 NCAA title in parallel bars.
I was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1980 after a stellar collegiate and international career. At Illinois, I was an eight-time All-American and a two-time NCAA champion: in the all-around in 1956 and the floor exercise three years later. A member of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team, I also shined in multiple appearances in the Pan American Games. I was the 1963 Pan Am gold medalist in the parallel bars and medaled five times for U.S. teams that won Pan Am titles in 1959 and '63. I later coached men's gymnastics at Yale, where I'm now director of sports camps and physical education athletics.
In a two-year span in the mid-1950s, I was a nine-time All-American in men's gymnastics team. Five of those accolades came in 1954. I also was a three-time Big Ten champion. In 1953, I ruled at the league meet in still rings and parallel bars. In 1955, I again was Big Ten parallel bars champion. I competed for teams that knew virtually nothing but success. During years I lettered (1953-55), the Illini won every Big Ten title. In 1955, we also won the NCAA crown after placing second at nationals the previous two years.
In 1991, I earned first team All-Big Ten honors in women's gymnastics. I tied for the conference championship in uneven bars that season, my best at Illinois. I was also named a scholastic All-American while earning Academic All-Big Ten honors three times.
I lettered in gymnastics for only two years but established myself in that short time as one of the nation's best. In 1941, I was the NCAA champion in the side horse (now called the pommel horse) and parallel bars. In 1942, I successfully defended my title in the side horse. I was an eight-time All-American in those years, including twice in the all-around. I also was a five-time Big Ten champion.
INDIANAPOLIS – Justin Spring scored a 9.3 on the high bar Friday, becoming the first Illini athlete to win a U.S. Gymnastics title.
Spring, who totaled 18.75, was named to the U.S. National Team and might compete at the World Championships on Nov. 21-27 in Melbourne, Australia.
I am the only Illini to receive the Nissen Award, given to the nation's top senior in men's collegiate gymnastics. My honor came in 1989, when I earned All-America status in three events for an NCAA champion Illinois team. My versatility also was evident at the 1988 NCAA meet, where I was an All-American in the all-around. I was a three-time Big Ten champion – in three different events – from 1986 to '89.
INDIANAPOLIS – On a night of splats and spills, Todd Thornton did just enough Wednesday to edge David Sender for the top spot in the preliminaries at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships.
Thornton finished with 52.900 points, 0.50 ahead of David Sender. David Durante was third with 52.150 points.
In 1996, I received the UI's Female Newcomer of the Year award, signifying the start of an oustanding gymnastics career. That year I won the NIT championship in balance beam and was named to the Collegiate National Team in beam, vault and the all-around. In 1998, I earned All-Big Ten honors. I was a three-time winner of the program's most outstanding gymnast award.