Men's Gymnastics
Illini Men's Gymnasts Prepare For 2001 NCAA Championships

Senior co-captain Linh Hoang looks to lead his gymnastics squad to a national title this weekend
Senior co-captain Linh Hoang looks to lead his gymnastics squad to a national title this weekend

April 2, 2001

The Illinois men's gymnastics team (19-4 overall, 7-3 in the Big Ten) heads into the NCAA Championships this weekend as the fourth seed in the 12-team event and will compete in the early session (Noon CT) on Thursday looking to qualify for the team finals on Friday. To do so, the Illini will need to post one of the top three scores during qualifying against No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 5 California, No. 8 Penn State, No. 9 Minnesota and No. 12 Stanford. The Illini have ranked as high as second in the nation this season after overcoming odds of losing nine-time All-American Travis Romagnoli to graduation and adapting to a new, drastically different, code of scoring. Never in recent years has an Illinois squad had so many contributors.

The key to the NCAA Championships for the Illini will be pommel horse and parallel bars, events that the Illini have struggled with all season. In the conference championships, Illinois posted the highest score of the meet on pommel horse, but lost its first-place lead with a sub-par performance on parallel bars. By far, the Illini's strong suit has been still rings with three gymnasts ranking in the top-20. The team has posted high scores of over 37.00 on four occasions including a 37.45 at the UCLA Invitational. The Illini have also been very strong on vault and high bar this season. The squad has scored a 36.00 or better on vault six times this year and rank two gymnasts in the top-20, Linh Hoang and Leo Oka. On high bar, the Illini had three gymnasts qualify for event finals at the Big Ten Championships and senior Jon Ham took third on the event. Senior Greg Cook is ranked 10th on high bar, followed by Ham 11th and Oka 17th.


Illinois' head coach Yoshi Hayasaki is in his 25th year at the helm of the Illinois men's gymnastics program. During his tenure, the Illini have placed in the top-10 on 10 occasions and won one NCAA title in 1989. Hayasaki won four Big Ten titles in a span of eight years. He has coached 36 All-Americans, 33 Big Ten Champions, four national champions, and two Olympians at Illinois and his career record with the Illini is 211-114-1 (.649). As a competitor, Hayasaki was a two-time NCAA all-around national champion at the University of Washington in 1970 and 1971. He placed second in the all-around in 1968, the only other year he competed (he sat out the 1969 season with a torn Achilles tendon). He was a Pacific-Eight Conference champion in the all-around, parallel bars, high bar and rings (two-time) and a three-time All-American. He was inducted into the Washington Hall of Fame in 1983.


With a 19-4 regular season record this year, head coach Yoshi Hayasaki has posted the most wins in school history. The previous best was 13 wins in 1998, the same year the Illini placed third at the NCAA Championships. In those 19 wins are a first-place finish at the UCLA Invitational and second-place finishes at the Santa Barbara Invitational and the Windy City Invite.


For the entire season, the Illinois gymnasts held the No. 1 spot in the country on rings until last week when Oklahoma dethroned the Illini. The Sooners hold a slight edge over the Illini (37.192-37.183) heading into the NCAA Championships. At the Big Ten Championships, the Illini posted a team score of 37.15, which makes the fourth time this season the team has topped the 37.00 mark on the event, with a high score of the season of 37.45 at the UCLA Invitational. Three gymnasts are ranked in the top-20 on the event with senior Linh Hoang leading the way with a 9.467 average and fifth in the nation. Senior Leo Oka is seventh with a 9.45 and junior Sean-Paul Crawford ranks 20th with a 9.117.


The Illinois men's gymnastics program is one of the most storied in NCAA history with nine national titles under its belt. That number ties for most titles won by any single team. Illinois' 42 individual titles are second-most in NCAA history behind Penn State. Head coach Yoshi Hayasaki led his 1989 team to a national title, which is the last time an Illinois squad in any sport won a team championship. Since the NCAA format change from regionals to a qualifying round on Thursday in 2000, Illinois squads have been seeded among the top-12 and qualified for first-day competition. In 2000, Illinois earned a sixth seed and placed seventh overall. In 2001, the Illini head into the championships as the fourth seed.


The Illinois men's gymnastics team took fourth at the 2001 Big Ten Championships, falling short of its goal of a conference title. Four rotations into the meet, the Illini led following a solid showing on the team's weakest event, pommel horse. A sub-par performance on parallel bars dropped the Illini from first to fourth. Two Illini, Leo Oka and Linh Hoang, placed in the top-six in the all-around to earn All-Big Ten honors. In the event finals on Sat., five Illini qualified for events with Oka taking second on pommel horse and senior Jon Ham placing third on high bar.


Looking back at senior Leo Oka's career, the all-arounder has worked on constantly improving his standing year after year. As a freshman, Oka competed as an all-arounder and contributed to the team's third-place finish at the NCAAs. He improved on that performance as a sophomore as he qualified for the NCAA Championships as an all-arounder and placed seventh, one spot shy of All-America status. That season he also placed seventh on rings and earned All-Big Ten honors. As a junior, Oka placed sixth at nationals, earning his first All-America honor. During the 2001 Big Ten Championships, Oka placed fourth in the all-around once again earning All-Big Ten honors, while also taking second on pommel horse. He will look to improve on last season's performance with an all-around performance that puts the team in place to win an NCAA title.