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Gibbs strikes it big with Big Blue

Steamboat gymnast makes cut with Michigan program

Steamboat gymnast Cole Gibbs earned a spot on the University of Michigan gymnastics team.
Joel Reichenberger

— Learning to do a double front flip during a gymnastics floor routine is a process, Steamboat Springs High School graduate Cole Gibbs explained last week, relaxing in a moment away from training at Excel Gymnastics on Steamboat’s west end.

You start by trying it on a trampoline, flipping over and over again into a pit filled with foam blocks, trying to master the speed, the power and the acrobatics required to log two full rotations.

From there, you go to a special training floor, flat ground without that foam pit for comfort, but with a bit more bounce than a regular competition floor.

Finally, you do take it to that competition floor, and when Gibbs did that earlier this month while preparing to try out for the University of Michigan men’s gymnastics team, it did not go well.

He fell five times the day before.

“Didn’t land a single one,” he said.

He also fell four more times while attempting the trick in the warmup before the competition.

“Didn’t land a single one then, either,” he said.

He hit it during the actual competition, and with that, the Steamboat athlete who’d been prepared to retire from his sport was suddenly the newest member of the Wolverines’ seven-time national championship men’s gymnastics program.

“It’s surreal being a part of such a storied program,” he said.

Gibbs, studying aerospace engineering in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was initially reluctant to even try to walk on to the illustrious program’s squad. Some prodding from dad, Excel Gymnastics owner Mike Smith, changed his mind, but even late in the tryout process, Gibbs was preparing himself for the end of his gymnastics career. A coach told him his odds of making the team were in the one-in-100 range.

He stuck with it, however, and partially thanks to landing that double front flip on his floor routine — a trick that’s still a struggle for many gymnasts at that level — Gibbs made the cut and was selected to be on the 24-athlete team.

“A month and a half before this competition they told me I was at the bottom of the cuts list, that I had a 99 percent chance of getting cut, so that was pretty demoralizing, but also it took some pressure off of me,” he said. “I was just going for fun. I worked hard enough and did well enough I beat the odds.”

Team competition starts in January, and the national championships will come late in the spring. Still, Gibbs has more work to do if he’s to represent the Maize and Blue this year. Only 15 athletes compete each week, and he’s behind some of the best collegiate gymnasts in the nation. Michigan won back-to-back NCAA titles in 2013 and 2014.

Gibbs is slated to focus on floor and vault with some work on rings.

It took a process to get to that point, and it started with the most simple question: did Gibbs even want to compete at that level?

He’d been ready to retire from gymnastics in the spring following a trip to nationals, which in itself is a major achievement for a Steamboat gymnast.

That event took place near Michigan’s campus, and when Gibbs was reluctant to investigate the walk-on program, his father offered some prodding.

“We argued about it,” Smith said. “I went up to the coaches and introduced myself.”

That opened the door and eventually Gibbs decided to charge through.

Initially, he had a three-month trial with the program, all but sure to be cut when the roster was finalized in December.

He immediately loved the atmosphere. The coaches were savvy, and his teammates pushed him, something new after his days at Excel where he was often twice as old as any other athletes working out on a given day.

The team environment helped, as well, and he made progress.

“I could definitely see I was on the lower end of the team skill wise and with strength and flexibility,” he said. “The atmosphere there helped, though, the training, doing the same thing as everyone else was doing and sometimes more conditioning, more stretching. I could see the physical changes in my body. I could see the improvement.”

He improved by leaps and bounds, making more progress in three months than he had in three years. Finally, he was at his peak at the right time, for the intra-squad competition that finalized the team.

Now he’s hoping to keep that progress rolling, to not just linger on the team, but to crack that top 15 and help Michigan continue as one of the strongest programs in the nation.

“Even if I redshirt this year, next year I’ll be high enough up to get into the floor and vault and hopefully rings, too,” he said. “Still, we have one of the best recruiting classes in the nation coming in next year. I’m hoping after this year of working, getting stronger and spending time in that environment, I’ll be ready.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9


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