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Doug Sullivan an unlikely anchor for men's gymnastics

BY CHARLIE GREEN | FEBRUARY 17, 2015 5:00 AM

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At 5-6, 120 pounds, junior Doug Sullivan may be the smallest giant you come across. Two years ago, the Iowa men’s gymnast came to the program with a tough row to hoe.

His start values were low, he was designated to one event, and he struggled through a rigorous training program.

“Doug was like a little boy when he got here,” head coach JD Reive. “He could legitimately barely climb the rope.”

Now — three years later — Sullivan is easily the team’s most vital specialist.

He realized in high school that he would have to focus completely on the pommel horse if he were to become a successful gymnast, and that’s exactly what he did.

Because he is a specialist, Sullivan has been able to put in two-and-a-half hours each day on his event — part of the reason he has come so far.

In an ideal world, Reive recruits gymnasts to come in and immediately perform routines with a 15.5 start value.

But when Sullivan started in the program, he practiced a routine with a lowly 14.1 start value. Now, however, he starts out at 16.1.

“Doug came in with very little and put himself up where some of the top-tier kids would be,” Reive said. “It’s tremendous. It’s like a kid crawling around the track and then being able to sprint in the top 10.”

Taking the time in his freshman season to prove to coaches he was worth a spot on the squad, the results began to show late in his sophomore campaign.

“Halfway through the season, but mostly Big Tens last year,” Sullivan said. “It finally clicked in my head that I was one of the top guys on horse and that I could actually compete and contend.”

At that meet, he finished eighth on the pommel horse with a 14.800, but Sullivan’s progress was far from over.

This year he has yet to score below his Big Ten championship mark last season. In the Hawkeyes’ most recent meet, on Feb. 14, Sullivan scored a season-high 15.150.

In what has been the Hawkeye’s lowest scoring and most flawed event lineup, Sullivan has been a rock, averaging 14.970 for the season.

No one else even sniffs the 14-point mark, making the junior an absolute necessity for the team, which needs all the points it can muster on the event.

And it’s not just this season the Hawks have struggled on the horse — it has been their worst event for the past few seasons.

Reive and Company said it’s just a different animal.

“You take your mind out of the event for a second, you fall,” freshman Elijah Parsells said. “You’re always moving, so you can’t take your eyes off the event for a second.”

It is indeed a mentally demanding monster of an event. Botching any of the several turns is almost an automatic fall. Failing to transition into a successful dismount will mean a costly loss in points. Concentration is of the utmost importance.

But Sullivan has made it look easy so far. He’s consistently shown the determination and focus to cement his place on the team. That place may not leave him at the top of the scoreboard with the all-arounders, but one thing is sure: His role cannot be replaced.

“He just worked really hard every day,” Reive said. “You just saw it in his eyes, and he worked hard enough to get himself to that point.”

Follow @CharlsGreen on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa gymnastics team.


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