When the Cal men’s gymnastics team entered Stanford’s Burnham Pavilion last Saturday, it came prepared from extra practice time afforded by a recent bye week and pumped for another opportunity to compete. Despite their final team rankings falling short of No. 2 Stanford and No. 6 Illinois, the Bears each reached far, breaking records and hitting sets as a result.
Sophomore Jasper Smith-Gordon’s vault score of 14.850 not only won the event but set a new program record. This came as no surprise, however, as Smith-Gordon successfully incorporated the notoriously difficult kaz-triple, essentially a triple twist flip, into his routine. The newest mark eclipses the vault record set by freshman Khalen Curry only two weeks ago — but Smith-Gordon is just glad he proved to himself he could do it.
“To be honest, (setting the new program record) wasn’t the first thing that came into my mind. I was more happy that I landed the vault — it’s been a long year of injuries, and so being able to get back to the position I was in prior to my injuries was the only thing on my mind,” Smith-Gordon said.
He thus viewed the new record as more of an “added bonus,” though he felt very gratified to have made his team so ecstatic.
“I definitely met my goals, but I didn’t exceed them,” Smith-Gordon said. “There’s obviously more work to be done, and it’s just important not to get complacent. It obviously is a great achievement, but I don’t want it to be the only achievement this season.”
Fortunately for the Bears, there were multiple other achievements that occurred within this meet alone. Junior Aidan Li snagged third place in pommel, maintaining his current best score of 14.000, which ties for fourth best in modern program history. He wasn’t alone with such excellence, however, as Cal’s top event of the meet was pommel horse with an overall score of 65.650 points, another tie for fourth best in program history.
Claiming that it was his greater sense of self-confidence and deep-rooted belief in his teammates that allowed Cal to push such high numbers on pommel, Li represents the growing strength and success that Cal men’s gymnastics is clearly coming into.
“I felt more confident going into the meet this week. Like, normally I’m pretty nervous right before a set, but I felt a lot more calm because in the past week I’ve pushed a lot more numbers in practice and in my sets,” Li said. “I tried swinging bigger because before I’d sometimes hold myself back, but you score better when you swing extended.”
He likewise expressed how his teammates also performed well and with the results being a record-high score in the event, it’s clear that the pommel lineup, as Li put it, “has a lot of potential.”
The successes didn’t stop there, though. Freshman Theodor Gadderud dominated Cal’s lineup on floor with an impressive score of 13.600, placing seventh overall. Meanwhile, junior Noah Newfeld elevated the Bears’ momentum on both rings (12.850) and horizontal bar (13.150) as senior Noah Sano paved the rest of the way by putting up respectable numbers on parallel bars with a score of 13.800.
As promised, new personal bests were achieved — both junior Seth Ornelas and sophomore Tyler Shimizu set new personal bests on high bar, with respective scores of 12.450 and 12.750. Despite this being Shimizu’s first time competing in five events in his collegiate career, he clearly converted the pressure into success, evident in his additional personal best on floor with a score of 13.550.
Looking ahead, the Bears hope to continue perfecting their sets and reaching new personal bests, but with an added sense of purpose to achieve even more accolades.
“A key takeaway we all took out of (the meet) was that we don’t want to leave the season feeling like we could’ve done more,” Smith-Gordon said.
And with the Bears’ upcoming meet against Army and William & Mary back at Haas Pavilion, there’s no better time than the present to excel.