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Iowa gymnast earns All-American honors

BY NICK GANS | APRIL 19, 2010 7:30 AM

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Pressure, luck, and perfect execution led to an All-American season for Iowa gymnast Mike Jiang.

The junior ended the NCAA championships on April 17 as the only Hawkeye on the men’s gymnastics team to earn the status with a seventh-place finish on the pommel-horse in West Point, N.Y.

“When I first found out I was an All-American, I was like, ‘Wow, doesn’t life seem surreal right now,’ ” Jiang said. “I didn’t expect to go anywhere with my pommel-horse routine at the beginning of the year.”

Iowa head coach Tom Dunn credited Jiang’s health during the final stretch of the season to the change. He said Jiang showed more consistency in his routine at the end of the year and excelled at the NCAA championships because it.

But Jiang said some fortune helped as well

“I thought I was pretty lucky to make it the first day,” Jiang said of his 13.50 score that earned him 20th place on April 15. “On Friday, I just realized that I made it, and I have nothing to lose. I put myself in a relaxed mindset, and realized I was just competing for myself and not the team, and went out and got in the zone.”

His April 16 qualifying pommel horse score of 14.550 — a season high for both Jiang and Iowa — earned him a seventh-place finish, which he also received at the of the individual championships on April 17.

“Going into the finals, I knew I was top 10 and all I needed was a top-eight finish to be an All-American,” the Littleton, Colo., native said. “Then, I saw that the first three people fell, and every time they did, my heart jumped. ‘All I had to do was hit,’ was what went through my mind, and then I’d reach my goal.”

The 5-9 all-arounder said he knew he had the routine and the form to gain All-American status in pommel horse in the last month of the season, but he also knew the event had been a weak link and inconsistent all year for Iowa.

Jiang was tied for No. 32 nationally on the event heading into the NCAA championships.

Dunn said he didn’t expect Iowa to come away with an All-American in the event that had given his team trouble throughout the season.

“The pommel horse is a tough event for everyone, not just us,” Dunn said. “There were good guys who just choked ahead of Mike, probably because they didn’t handle the championship pressure very well. He took advantage of it and put in a great routine that he’s been working on.”

The routine that led to Jiang’s All-American performance in New York was perfected in Iowa City.

The week of practice before the NCAA championships, Jiang hit on nine of nine practice runs, a first for the season.

Prior to the NCAA championships, Iowa associate head coach Dmitri Trouch said Jiang had made progress since the Big Ten championship meet 12 days beforehand.

With a healthy body and consistency, Jiang said he felt that he had peaked at the right time. He hopes to build on his all-around skills over the summer.

But his All-American pommel-horse routine won’t be enough for next season, Jiang said.

With perfect form, the gymnast said he believes his routine has maxed out scoring-wise. He wants to add difficulty to the routine in the future to cap off his Iowa career with back-to-back All-American seasons.

“The best thing about [the NCAA championships] is that I know it’s possible to perform so well with my abilities,” he said. “Next year, I want to be even better on the pommel horse and make us a team to beat in 2011. I won’t get lucky again, and I kind of expect to be [an All-American] from now on.”

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