John Orozco never got compete at the NCAA men's gymnastics championships. He went straight from high school to competing internationally.
So, it shouldn't have been a surprise that he would sit front row the past two days taking in the excitement of the 2015 NCAA Championships at the University of Oklahoma and wonder what he missed out on.“I'm excited,” Orozco said. “I never competed in college. So for me, this is especially exciting as I get to experience it without actually having to do gymnastics. It's really fun and I've been looking forward to it.”
Orozco and several members of the U.S. National men's gymnastics team were on hand this week as the best college gymnasts in the country battled each other for supremacy. While they are used to competing at a different level around the world, they had nothing but praise for the men who were going for national titles this week.
“I believe there are a lot of gymnasts who could be on the national team if we extended spots,” Orozco said. “That's how good these guys are. Actually there are a few gymnasts here on the national team. A lot of gymnasts here are the best of the best in the nation. Not just college wise. But gymnastics wise.”
Donnell Whittenburg was also impressed with the level of skill he is witnessing in the college meets. He says those competing today are far ahead from when he first began.
“It's definitely progressing from what it was in the past,” Whittenburg said. “The skill and level of the gymnastics has definitely risen. It should be interesting to see where it goes in the future.”
However, there are parts of the sport Whittenburg thinks could be improved to entice more fans to men's gymnastics at all levels.
Currently in men's gymnastics, judges combine two different scores to get a total. One for execution and one for difficulty. Whittenburg believes that it may be difficult for the casual fan to follow, but he still gets lost in the excitement anyway.
“The way to do that is to try and make this sport as simple as possible,” Whittenburg said. “The scoring, people don't want to calculate stuff. They want one simple number or points like that. If they simplified that a little bit more, than people could relate a little bit more.”
While a change in the scoring system is not on the horizon, the NCAA has already shown it can adapt to make men's gymnastics more fan friendly experience.
“Here at the NCAAs it's five on, five count now,” Brandon Wynn said. “In the past, when I was a competitor it was six up, four count. So it is a whole different game. The consistency is really playing a big factor. It's exciting fun to watch.”
Having each gymnast who gets up count toward the success or failure of their team was a groundbreaking move, according to Wynn.
“You have to hit,” Wynn said. “If you have a missed routine, a missed score, that's going toward the team score. That's really detrimental. I think it's a positive. It's basically encouraging teams to do clean gymnastics that looks astatic. That's what you want to do. You are seeing good gymnastics. You are not seeing those falls.”
But at the end of the day, it all comes down to the college athletes. Seeing how much they enjoyed themselves competing for their schools and fans mean a lot to the national team members.
“I like how spirited the teams are,” Orozco said. “They have a lot of good camaraderie with all the teams. They are actually very good friends with each other even if they are not from the same school. A lot of the gymnasts train at the same club gym then go to separate schools. But they are still friends. So there is not like there is any tension between the teams.”