Justin Spring currently ranks in the top ten nationally on both the floor exercise and vault.
March 11, 2003
by Ben Taylor, Illinois Athletic Public Relations
When he was recruiting his 2003 class, University of Illinois gymnastics coach Yoshi Hayasaki saw something in Adam Pummer and Justin Spring that he wanted. In addition to being the two top-ranked junior gymnasts in the nation, the pair showed a desire to compete that Hayasaki wanted to add to his program.
"Justin and Adam brought a very competitive atmosphere to the gym," Hayasaki said. "Those freshmen bring out the competitiveness, which I think the upperclassmen really feel."
That drive has shown in their results, as Pummer has already won five event titles on the season, including the all-around vs. No. 2 Ohio State and the pommel horse at the Southwest Cup last week. A native of Allentown, Pa., Pummer currently ranks sixth in the country in the all-around, tied for seventh on vault, tied for sixth on p-bars, 18th on the floor and 15th on high bar.
Spring, a Burke, Va. native, has been limited by a wrist injury, but bounced back against Temple and Penn State, winning the vault against the nation's top-ranked vaulter, Penn State's Kevin Donohue. Spring also defeated Donohue on the vault, setting a career high 9.550 against Penn State and Iowa and then followed that by winning both the floor and vault at the Peter Vidmar Invite the next week. He currently ranks third in the nation on floor, tied for seventh on vault, and tied for 18th on high bar.
"I'm very excited about the fact that they're only freshmen and already contributing, already showing some signs of greatness," Hayasaki said. "So far they've done very well both in and outside of the gym."
Pummer said having Spring on the team is a huge benefit for him and a major reason he chose the Illini.
"It's a great feeling having Justin there because I competed against him a couple years, and now that he's on my side it makes it a lot better," Pummer said. "Having spots for Justin and me together and seeing a promising team, a young team, was a big reason I came here."
"In club it's all for yourself, it isn't so much team-oriented," Spring said. "But when you get out here it's for the team. In some ways that puts more stress (on me) depending on the situation, but in other ways I find that more of a relaxing atmosphere."
Spring also said the team concept adds obligations to the individual. "You've got more dedication here, more requirements because you are part of a team and you have to do certain things for that team," he said. "That's the only thing that's been harder - when I hurt my wrist it hurt me, but it also hurt my team."
But one of the team's main functions is building up the individuals that compose it. "They've always been there," said Pummer of his teammates. "They've always backed me up in everything and it puts a little more pressure on me to work harder when somebody's there."
Spring agreed, "The reason I chose to come here is because the teammates are so supportive. I consider these guys my best friends. They've made it real easy to come in and feel comfortable on the team, and that makes me want to compete and do well so much more for the team."
Illini senior co-captain Bob Spelic said Spring and Pummer have dealt with the increased pressure of collegiate gymnastics successfully.
"We have high expectations for them," Spelic said. "For them to be doing as well as they are, it shows a lot for their personalities to meet the expectations we're putting on them."
Spring isn't happy, however, because the wrist injury he sustained before the season continued a string of aliments that has plagued him throughout his gymnastics career.
"I haven't been able to train consistently for a year for the last six years," he said. "That affects how well your preparation for meets is. Learning new skills is a big thing, and you're not ready to learn new skills if you're injured."
As Spring recovers physically, Hayasaki looks forward to Pummer and Spring serving as a dynamic foundation for Illini gymnastics in the coming years.
"We're going to have a better team in the future as long as these freshmen keep improving," he said. "As long as they are the ones who become a strong force of a team for the next three or four years."