118-year history ends for U men’s gymnastics; Wiskus wins two individual titles

Rachel Blount, Star Tribune
·4 min read

Their history hung directly over their heads, written in the banners dangling from the Maturi Pavilion rafters. Each panel told a piece of the Gophers' 118-year-old story: their first Big Ten championship in 1903, John Roethlisberger's brilliant run in the 1990s, Shane Wiskus' 2019 NCAA championship on parallel bars.

The timeline ended Saturday at the NCAA men's gymnastics championships, where Wiskus added two individual national titles — on parallel bars and still rings — and led the Gophers to a fifth-place finish in their home gym to conclude their final season as a varsity program. Wiskus's bid for an all-around title fell just short, as the senior finished in second place for the third time in his career.

Brody Malone — who defeated Wiskus for the all-around in 2019 — repeated the feat Saturday. Malone prevailed by 0.198 of a point, leading Stanford to its second consecutive team title. The Cardinal, who led through most of the competition, won with 414.521 points, topping Oklahoma (411.591) and Michigan (410.358).

The Gophers finished with 406.291 points, their highest total of the season. Wiskus defended his title on parallel bars with a score of 14.433 and earned his first NCAA championship on rings with a score of 14.400.

Wiskus, of Spring Park, also finished second on floor exercise and second on high bar. Malone won the NCAA title on high bar. Other champions were Oklahoma's Gage Dyer (floor exercise and vault) and Ian Skirkey of Illinois (pommel horse).

The all-around title came down to the final rotation in a tight race between Wiskus and Malone. Wiskus heightened the drama on the second-to-last event when he fell on his vault landing, scoring a 13.500. That allowed Malone to keep an 0.265-point lead, with Wiskus ending on parallel bars and Malone on rings.

Malone went first, completing an outstanding routine with a stuck landing. To tie him, Wiskus needed to score a 14.631 on parallel bars. Wiskus performed well but took a small step on the landing, scoring a 14.433 to leave him in second place again.

The team title was the seventh for Stanford, which also beat Oklahoma to win in 2019. The NCAA championships were canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic.

In the days before the meet, Wiskus had been reflecting on his time as a Gopher, which started long before he put on the uniform. He remembered attending meets at the Pav as a kid, getting his photo taken with Goldy and his program signed by his idols.

He has been training in Colorado Springs for the Olympic trials but returned to the Gophers for their final two weeks together. In Friday's qualification round, Wiskus shaved a bit of difficulty off his routines, thinking it best to play it safe.

There was no holding back Saturday, for him or his teammates. The Gophers started on high bar, with a quintet of solid performances that came up just shy of their season-best score Friday. But they scored big on floor exercise, setting a new season high to move into second place in the team standings.

All five gymnasts bettered or tied their Friday scores, capped by Wiskus's 15.100. His routine combined power, control and precision, finishing with a roar toward his fired-up teammates. The Gophers' team score of 70.599 was their best on the event this season, pushing them into second behind pacesetter Stanford.

But pommel horse—the Gophers' most troublesome event—tripped them up. Their first three competitors scored below 13.000, until Wiskus and David Pochinka broke through with a 13.400 and 13.266.

That dropped the Gophers to fifth in the team standings and left Wiskus 0.133 behind Malone in the all-around race. It also put pressure on the Gophers to improve on still rings, an event that bedeviled them Friday.

Henry Meeker—who competed despite a torn knee ligament—started them off with a 13.333. Crew Bold (13.600) and Colton Dee (13.633) set the table for Wiskus, who finished with a double-twisting, double-back dismount that propelled him to the top of the standings with a 14.400. At that point, Wiskus trailed Malone, but Wiskus had the potential to take the lead with a good vault.

Instead, he stumbled backwards and sat down on the landing. That left Wiskus needing a nearly perfect routine on parallel bars. Malone wrapped up his meet with a score of 14.366 on rings, and his teammates wrapped him in hugs.