April 25, 2013
Shortly after the University of Michigan men's gymnastics team returned from State College, Pa., with its NCAA championship trophy in hand, Bruce Madej, associate athletic director for special projects, sat down with Wolverine assistant coach Geoff Corrigan not only to talk about the NCAA championship but also to find out how he got started in the sport, how he views this team, Olympians Sam Mikulak and Syque Caesar, and more.
Corrigan, who just completed his fourth season on head coach Kurt Golder's staff, was a captain and All-American for the Wolverines in 2005. In his first year as an assistant coach, Corrigan helped Michigan to the 2010 NCAA title.
You have said gymnastics has long been a part of your life, how did you first get into it?
"I spent a lot of time with my grandpa and grandma when I was little. We would always go on these walks, and there was a gym really close by the house. One day when we were out for a walk, we just stopped into the gym -- they were performing gymnastics routines -- and I really wanted to do it. I was about five years old and just loved it. I was kind of a crazy kid. I was bouncing off the walls and was never really scared of anything, so I started."
When did you first notice that you had talent as a gymnast?
"I was pretty young when I was recognized by some of the coaches. I remember when I was eight years old, I was doing quadruple twists on the trampoline and was doing demonstrations. I really did not start placing well in competition around the country until I was about 14 years old. Then I just started going up through the junior ranks."
Did you find it easy to compete in the junior ranks?
"I really got off to a slow start. The first Junior Olympics I competed in, I finished 93rd. By the next year, I already jumped up to 14th place. When I was 17, I joined the Resident Program at the Olympic Training Center. The program is very prestigious and selective. It was a big deal for me. I was living there at the OTC and going to school and going to the high school that was close to the OTC. I was now training twice a day."
You were living in Colorado Springs. How did you get to the University of Michigan?
"The year I was sixth in the country at the Junior Olympics, so I was getting recruited by quite a few schools. Michigan was the first recruiting trip I had scheduled. I came to campus, and I loved it. When I went home the next day, they offered me a scholarship. I had already decided Michigan was where I wanted to go, so I actually signed the very next day."
You were a team captain, and you were an All-American. What was the best thing that came out of going to school at the University of Michigan?
"I was born in Colorado, and I had traveled a little bit. I had been to a few different places, but just being around different people that were interested in bettering themselves so much and advancing themselves, just seeing a different type of people and then learning in the classroom at Michigan, I was humbled actually. It was easy for me in high school. I was a smart kid and did really well. When I got to Michigan, it was like a wakeup call. I just could not believe how difficult it really was and how smart everybody here was. So, for me, it was just meeting all these people and seeing how hard everyone one worked in class and then to see how these athletes worked. It really showed me what I needed to do."
Talk about your first years as a gymnast at Michigan.
"Kurt (Golder) really gave me quite a bit of help. I was injured quite a lot in my freshman year. In fact, the very first day of practice, I was coming back from shoulder surgery, and I tore my knee up. I had to have surgery, and I was out for most of the season. It was a tough transition for me leaving Colorado and being up here injured. However, just sticking through that year, having the support of my team and the staff, especially Kurt, and really being humbled, changed my life for the better."
Your teams were always in the top four at the NCAA when you performed here at U-M. What is the difference between placing that high and winning a national championship?
"We had a really good team, but everyone was hurt at different times. Scott Vetere had to redshirt one year. Justin Toman was injured one year, and I was injured. Nothing ever seemed to come together quite right for us to win it all. The NCAA, at that time, was laden with talent. There were so many great gymnasts in the NCAA. There was Jonathon Horton, Justin Spring, Toman and Vetere who were competing all over the world; it was difficult. If you did not have a perfect day, it was nearly impossible to win."
Speaking of international competition, how did you become a coach for Syque Caesar with the Bangladesh Olympic team?
"As coaches at Michigan, we each coach our own group of about eight guys. Syque was one of the guys in my group. When I first came in, he was injured. He had torn his ACL twice, had all sorts of other injuries, and was really a one- or two-event guy. I just thought if we could get him through one year and really get him back into it, he would turn into a more well-rounded gymnast who would perform on three or four events for us. Once he returned to better health, started to do well in the NCAA, and kept his body healthy, he ended up being a really good gymnast. When we started talking about international competition in 2010, we knew Rohan Sebastian competed for Ireland, and Syque has dual citizenship with Bangladesh. I said, 'Maybe this is an opportunity for you to compete internationally. See if you can talk to the Bengali Sports Federation and see if they are willing to support you competing.' His dad was a pretty big soccer star in Bangladesh so he had some pretty good connections with their Olympic sports teams. They ended talking to Syque. They were happy to have somebody with Syque's talent and ability to compete for Bangladesh, and it progressed from there."
How did the Summer Games in 2012 come into play?
"We went to the World Championship in 2011, which was actually the qualifying for the Olympics. We literally found out at those World Championships that if he competed in the all-around there, it would be possible for him to qualify for the Olympics. It was the prerequisite that you had to perform the all-around if you were going to qualify for the London Olympics. Originally, we were only going have Syque compete in four events. So right on the spot, we made up two routines -- one for pommel horse and one for rings. He was not planning on doing these two events, but because he performed those two routines, he qualified for the Olympics."
Tell us about Sam Mikulak. What makes Sam who he is?
"We were talking about this a lot this past weekend because I have not seen a performance like that in really a long time. It was pretty impressive. I think what makes him so gifted is first, his genetics. His body heals faster than most anyone I have been around. I remember when he broke his ankles. The doctor said 'six weeks' and he was back in about four weeks. He tore his Achilles in October. The doctor said, 'You might be able start doing things by the end of February or the beginning of March,' and Sam was way ahead of schedule. His body has this amazing ability to recover a lot faster than anybody else. Then, when there is competition like we just had for three days in a row, Sam looked like he got better with each day of competition. I also think with Sam, nothing seems to bother him at all. He is a cool, calm competitor, and he is not in his own head too much. If he has a mistake, he can let it go so fast and move on to the next thing. He does not dwell on mistakes, and that is the way he trains too. To be able to do that lets him get to a state of mind where his highs are not too high and his lows are not too low. It allows him to train at a much higher level."
Is he the best gymnast U-M has had since you have been around?
"Definitely! He is the best gymnast that maybe Michigan has ever had, with the exception of Gil Larose in '63 who was a pretty amazing gymnast. However, Sam is at a whole other level, that is for sure."
Mikulak and Adrian de los Angeles went one-two in the all-around team competition. Was that something you expected to happen?
"That was exactly what I expected. I felt they should go 1-2 in the all-around just because Adrian had done such a great job this year. All year long, every single weekend, he has been a workhorse, he has been excellent. He won every all-around competition he had been in this year. Part of it is because Sam was not competing in the all-around, but the other part is that Adrian is just that good. Knowing that, I knew if they both just had good days they would be 1-2 in the all-around."
How did you feel about the men's gymnastics team winning the NCAA championship?
"I can say it was definitely our best performance. Both days of the NCAA Championships, we hit 28 of the 30 routines, which was by far our highest hit percentage this year. They did an incredible job. In fact, I was so nervous after the first day because they were so good and beat Oklahoma by 10 points. I just did not know if they could repeat that kind of performance. I thought they would not be able to have as good of a day on Saturday. The next day they had exactly the same type of performance. Everybody was so calm, cool and relaxed. It was quite the performance."
The final point total was rather substantial, wasn't it?
"Yes, it was the largest margin of victory in 29 years. The code of points has changed a little bit over the years, but it was significant for sure. Oklahoma had the best day they could have possibly had. In fact, they were 30 for 30 in their routines, and every routine they had to stick, they stuck. They had an incredible day. It looked as if it was going to be a little closer than the final score actually indicated. Going into that fifth rotation, we were only up by one-tenth of a point, and then coming out of the fifth rotation we were up by five-tenths of a point, so we had a little bit of a cushion. I knew with Oklahoma, they could not compete with us when they were on the high bar and we were on floor. If our guys did their job, I knew we would come of there with a national championship."
How was the trip home?
"Oh, it was good, it was awesome. We had guys carrying around the trophy and they were doing some Vine photos (social media) by putting the trophy in different situations. They even asked the pilot of the plane if they could put the trophy in the pilot's seat and take a picture, had it in the airports on the conveyor belt, it was pretty funny. They took pictures of it with every person on the team, and it was just great. It is really something."
Speaking of social media, did you ever think the hashtag #MGymDyansty would take off as it has?
"No, when I started it I wanted it to become a motivating, self-fulfilling prophecy kind of thing that this team could have something to think about -- what does it mean to be a dynasty and what goes into creating a dynasty. Not to say that we are even close to that yet, but we have a national championship, two national event wins this year. I do not think we could have done much better than that to start off. I really think the guys picked it up, liked it, and believe in it. It is something that has legs, that they can refer to for the next year and remind themselves what they have been working for."
Now that you have won the NCAA championship, what are you going to do for fun?
"I am going to take a couple of days off, then I am going to get back into the gym and start working again. This summer we have guys trying to make the World Championship team, Xiao (Yuan) and I are going to the Junior Olympics next week to start recruiting the guys coming up, but I am going to enjoy this for a little while. On the plane back, Kurt was already talking about next year and hosting the national championship at Crisler Center, but we are all hoping we can enjoy this for a couple of days and then move on to next year."