April 17, 2010

By Alex Raskin

Special to NCAA.com

WEST POINT, N.Y. - "The ring is the thing."

It's an expression that puts emphasis on winning championships above all else, but for the six schools competing for the NCAA Men's Gymnastics Championships on Friday, it had new relevance.

For Michigan, the event at West Point will always be remembered as the night the school won its fourth NCAA Men's Gymnastics National Championship while junior Chris Cameron took home the all-around national title.

For those in attendance, however, it will be remembered for the frequent delays caused by the broken still rings.

"This is my 22nd NCAA, I guess, and this has to be the strangest one ever," said Oklahoma coach Mark Williams. "We've had some (parallel bars) break and some minor equipment things, but nothing that took nearly as long as this. It wasn't completely fixed when they got it done. This will be one for the record books I guess."

As Illinois' Tyler Williamson was in the middle of his rings routine in the third session, he felt something give.

"I was swinging up backwards. I was about halfway up and the ring just wasn't feeling right in my hand," said Williamson.

When Williamson returned back to earth, everyone realized the left ring was cracked.

Army's gymnasts rushed in along with a few other helpers to dismantle and reassemble the rings during the first break in action. After the agreed upon three-minute warm-up session, the gymnasts took the mats to finish the night, but there was a lingering sense of trepidation around the apparatus.

Unfortunately for the Sooners, they were the next team up on a brand new set of rings.

"Two of my guys slipped on the ring and fell," said Williams. "It's just an unfortunate scenario; we weren't able to keep the momentum from the pommel horse. It was definitely unforeseen, and we definitely hung in there the best we could."

After a few more competitors completed the rings, it became apparent that the replacement apparatus wasn't quite right either.

"Initially (the other five coaches and myself) had a meeting with the Men's Rules Committee from the NCAA," Williams added. "We had a majority that felt like the athletes should be able to go over because of the circumstances.

"I think they did the right thing," he continued. "It was just unfortunate that it was something we had to deal with in the first place."

The NCAA rules committee decided to allow the competitors who slipped off the replacement rings to get another shot. Those six gymnasts took to the rings at the end of the night, but it had little effect on the overall outcome.

"It was the same scenario for everyone and I told the guys that it's a matter of who handles it the best," said Michigan coach Kurt Golder, after winning his second national title with Michigan. "We all have a delay and whoever handles this adversity best will is going to be the champion tonight. I don't know if we did that, but we are the champs."

After finishing second to Stanford in 2009, the rings fiasco was just a small hiccup in a yearlong mission.

"They set a goal last year when they were runner-up and they didn't lose sight of it," added Golder. "They kept working hard and it paid off for them."

Michigan took first place with a final score of 360.500 while Stanford finished second with a score of 359.800. The Sooners (357.050) finished third and the University of Illinois (354.900), University of California (354.700), and Ohio State (347.350) took home fourth, fifth and sixth respectively.

In the all-around, Cameron, the Big 10 champion, beat the defending champ, OU's Steven Legendre, by 1.550 points while another Wolverine, Mel Anton Santander, came in third with a score of 88.900.

The top 10 competitors in each event will take part in the Men's Individual NCAA National Championships tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at West Point's Holleder Center.