April 17, 2010

By Alex Raskin
Special to NCAA.com

WEST POINT, N.Y. - Michigan's Chris Cameron certainly wasn't the tallest gymnast at West Point's Holleder Center on Friday. It just seemed that way.

The diminutive Cameron appeared to be standing 7-feet tall after winning the NCAA men's gymnastics all-around national title on Friday as his Wolverines took home the school's fourth national championship in the sport. And Cameron won the all-around title.

"I can't believe I'm here," said the junior from Winter Haven, Fla. "All I can say is that I couldn't dream of a better way to do it."

Cameron finished the meet with an all-around score of 90.500 and defeated the defending national champion in the all-around, Oklahoma's Steven Legendre, by dramatically improving his worst event.

"Vault put me over the top," said Cameron. "I've been weak on vault my entire life. Recently, through hard training and a lot of work on aerodynamics, I've been able to pop myself in the air and do a double-twist. With that vault, that put me over the top."

Cameron finished the vault with a score of 15.450 - a tenth of a point off of his best vault ever.

Once Cameron had that maneuver down, he knew a national title couldn't be far behind.

While Cameron - who was also the Big 10 champion for 2010 - admittedly was a contender for the top spot coming into Friday, he was much more concerned with how Michigan would do as a team.

"I did not want to try to take anything away from my team," he said. "I didn't do that. I helped the team out and I fulfilled my lifelong dream of winning the all-around title."

A member of the Senior U.S. National Team, Cameron was named a 2009 NCAA All-American on floor and pommel horse, which was evident as he posted scores of 15.600 and 15.050 respectively in the two events on Friday.

But it was on the rings that Cameron had had his biggest advantage.

On a night in which the still rings had to be dismantled and repaired twice, Michigan appeared to be the only team not sweating the event.

"At our home arena, the rings have been notoriously crooked now and then," he said. "So we were like, 'We got this. We train on this.' It was like a little bit of home here in, where are we? New York?

"We actually started goofing off and trying to see how many funny things we could do," he continued. "I have great teammates and they're all about having a good time."

Cameron finished with a 15.450 on the rings.

Not everyone was having a great time with that apparatus, however.

Oklahoma, which was the first team to have a full rotation on the rings after they initially broke, couldn't remove a slick substance from the new equipment.

"When they were messing around with putting the new rings up, just to get the old ones off, they used some kind of a slick, loosening-type (substance)," said Oklahoma coach Mark Williams. "Some of that got on the ring they put up. It was very slippery. Even with as much chalk as we were trying to put on it, it wasn't quite right."

As luck would have it, OU's Legendre was one of the first gymnasts to try the refurbished rings, but due to its slickness, he finished with a 13.900.

"I felt very badly for the last few kids from Illinois and my team," said Williams. "I definitely think there was a psychological aspect to that."

Fortunately for those competitors who slipped, the NCAA rules committee allowed six gymnasts to re-do the rings, which allowed Legendre to improve his score to 14.350.

Even with all the chaos involving the rings, the 2009 champion couldn't take anything away from Cameron.

"Chris, he won by a point and a half," said Legendre. "I'm not that strong on rings. I wasn't going to catch him. My hat is off to him. He had an incredible night."

Now the pair will head off to Melbourne, Australia with the Senior National Team to compete in the Pacific Alliance Championships.

"We're going to do the same thing for America," said Cameron, "but right now it's about the Michigan Wolverines' National Championship."