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Taipei World University Games Men’s Gymnastics Starts on Saturday

Posted on 17 August 2017 by admin

By Jo-Ann Neff

Five NCAA Division I men’s artistic gymnasts (MAG) from four different MAG university teams have just traveled half way across the world to do what they love to do – gymnastics. Arriving in Taipei earlier this week for the 29th World University Games (WUG), the team is ready to make a great first impression, representing the USA in a three-event competition that begins Saturday and ends Wednesday, said head coach Karl Ziehn of Stanford University.

TeamUSA is comprised of Levi Anderson – University of Oklahoma, Alex Diab – University of Illinois, Tristan Duran and Vitali Kan – University of Minnesota, and Robert Neff – Stanford University.  

Since the gymnasts were selected by the USAG WUG Committee in late April, they have been in contact with one another, sharing videos and information, said Ziehn. They’re looking forward to getting reacquainted as teammates and what that means for them now and in the future. “They are really excited to go as a team. They’re a fantastic representation of MAG NCAA gymnasts and programs,” added Ziehn.  

Head coaches Mark Williams, Oklahoma, Justin Spring, Illinois and Mike Burns, Minnesota all shared how this event is ” the most amazing opportunity” and how special it is to compete and wear USA on your chest.  “How often do you get to represent your country at a well-known, prestigious event?” said Burns.

The WUG teammates have competed alongside and against one another at JO Nationals or attended a USAG camp together during their junior and senior level gymnastics careers. Kan and Neff were Swiss Turners teammates for  three years before heading off to university and are both looking forward to competing together again. The creation of this team and the bonds they are forming will be for life, said Burns. They will learn to adapt to the situation and pull together for each other.  “It will be exciting to see”, he added. 

Throughout the summer, Ziehn and trainer Zach Miller of the University of Oklahoma (both selected by the USAG MAG WUG Committee) worked with the athletes and their coaches on an intensive preparation program, with support from USAG’s MAG High Performance Director Brett McClure and Vice President Dennis McIntyre. They created spreadsheets, training logs, videos and virtual conversations to track the gymnasts’ health and progress.  And the guys have continued sharing videos and helping one another by providing direct feedback on their group site.  

McClure commends Ziehn, saying that he’s doing a great job in his first international head coach opportunity.  “Karl is detailed and prepared. He has made my job really easy. ” Ziehn’s enthusiasm stems from his days as an athlete and desire to someday coach at this elite global level. 

Miller, a former professional and collegiate football trainer with a year as MAG trainer at OU, is also making his first international stage debut with this team. He is well prepared to address the team’s physical needs and has packed his bag accordingly, he said.

The WUG setting is very much like the Olympics, including opening and closing ceremonies, an athlete’s village and a minimum of 14 compulsory sports held every two years. The International University Sports Federation (FISU) has organized and managed WUG since 1950. Gymnastics was added in 1961. This year, Taipei will host upwards of 10,000 plus student athletes, between the ages 17-28 from over 100 countries, competing in 16 sports during a 12-day period.

The MAG competitions include Team, All-Around and Event Finals. Team scores are tallied from the three highest scores from four routines on each of the six apparatus. The top 18  individual AA scores qualify for the AA finals and the top eight scores on each apparatus advance to the event finals.  No more than two gymnasts from the same country may qualify for the AA finals or in each event final. The format includes five subdivisions of six team/mixed individuals competing in this year’s team preliminary and individual qualifications. 

Both Ziehn and McClure believe the guys will have a successful competition if they have three clean routines on each apparatus.  “We have the depth for a medal if we do our job,” Ziehn added. “This is a big moment in their careers.  I’m looking forward to how they perform,” McClure added.

The High Performance Director is reviewing USAG’s MAG involvement in the WUG for the future.  He hopes to continue sending MAG teams and someday bring the event back to the USA (last in 1993 Buffalo, NY), and at a time that doesn’t conflict with the annual August P&G National Championships. 2017 is the first time in a long while that the USA has sent a full MAG team.  

So after months if not a lifetime of preparation, the gymnasts are ready to raise their hand, salute and execute for TeamUSA. And if recently retired UMN assistant coach Russ Fystrom was on the floor, the team would certainly enjoy hearing him say, “Inhale Confidence.  Exhale doubt.”

For schedule and further 29th World University Games information go to Universiade Taipei 2017 and Livefisu.

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