Pommel horse turning into team strength

BY NICK GANS | FEBRUARY 18, 2010 7:30 AM

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Last year, the pommel horse was a weak link for the Iowa men’s gymnastics team.

But with the emergence of junior Mike Jiang and sophomore Jacob Swafford, that is no longer the case. Iowa gymnasts and coaches expect to ride the pommel horse to success.

The development of Jiang and Swafford has helped catapult the No. 8 Hawkeyes. After being ranked 15th on the pommel horse last year, the coaching staff knew it had to focus more on the event.

The change for the eighth-ranked pommel horse team from a year ago is credited to the hard work and approach of the Iowa gymnasts, said associate head coach Dmitri Trouch said.

He said he expects his gymnasts on the pommel horse to be in great shape, come up with dynamic routines, and perform flawlessly meet after meet. Following the Hawkeyes’ win against Illinois-Chicago on Feb. 6, he thinks Jiang and Swafford have started to do just that.

Jiang set a meet high of 14.150 in Chicago, and Swafford finished second with a score of 13.80 in the event.

Jiang, who now ranks 26th nationally, has consistently put up some of the best scores in the country. And his success on the pommel horse does not surprise him.

“Pommel horse comes pretty natural to me, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school,” he said. “My growth spurt threw me off, and after that, everything came by pretty easy.”

Although he has won in meets, he said he realizes there is room for improvement on his dismounts and consistency. He plans to work on the former during practice and credits the coaching staff for improving his consistency this season.

Jiang said he felt last year’s team wasn’t ready on the pommel horse because of a lack of preparation.

Preparation for the pommel horse is something Swafford knows a thing or two about. After injuring his shoulder at the beginning of the season, he now only competes on the pommel horse, and like Jiang, he has put up some of the top scores.

Swafford currently ranks 17th in the NCAA but hopes to do even better by the end of the season.

While other gymnasts spread their practice time over numerous routines, Swafford spends his hour and half of practice every day on just the pommel horse.

He credits this and his technique for his success this year.

As Swafford begins to regain strength in his shoulder, he and Jiang have begun setting goals for the rest of the season.

Jiang has his eyes set on the Iowa pommel horse school record of 14.95. His personal best is 14.30.

Swafford has taken a different approach. All he wants is to hit on every try. He said if he does that, the scoring and records will take care of themselves.

With different paths and different goals, the pommel horse duo of Swafford and Jiang said they believe the best is yet to come.

Trouch expects the same.

“A lot of times, teams just struggle with the pommel horse,” he said. “We hope pommel horse is the event we can count on later on in the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA championships.”

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