Courtesy of Ohio State Athletics Communications
When Michael Newburger stepped onto Ohio State’s campus in 2009 for his freshman year, he was not even a part of the men’s gymnastics team.
Four years later, he is the 2013 NCAA Pommel Horse Champion.
Newburger, a redshirt junior on the men’s gymnastics team from Austin, Texas, came to Ohio State after falling in love with the campus during a visit with intentions of just being a student.
“I knew the coaches from camp years ago, so after I started classes here I contacted them, and about three weeks into the year they let me come in and do a week try out,” Newburger said. “They put me on the team, but it was kind of already accepted that I wasn’t going to compete that year.”
After being redshirted his freshman year, Newburger did not expect to see competition his second year either; however, with unfortunate injuries on the team he was thrown into the lineup on pommel horse that season.
The coaching staff underwent a change before Newburger’s junior year, as current coach Rustam Sharipov and assistant coach Casimiro Suarez took over the program. With a fresh perspective, Newburger felt that he was able to progress even further on pommel horse, which led him to a third place finish on that event in the 2012 NCAA Championships.
One year later, Newburger and the Buckeyes returned to the championships in State College, Pa. He had entered the competition with one of the highest start values in the country on pommel horse, a 16.4.
Due to injuries, the coaching staff and Newburger chose to take out a few skills leaving his start value at a 16.2, but it was still one of the highest in the competition.
On the first day of championships Newburger’s score was good enough to place him third and into the individual semi-final the following day.
Five of the Buckeyes returned Saturday night to compete for a spot in finals. Newburger was put in a rotation with the University of Iowa and pommel horse happened to be the last event.
“I had to wait the entire meet. So for me it was more of a mental game, trying to just relax, especially for pommel horse, you don’t want to be too stressed because it makes your swing tighter and harder to hit a good routine,” Newburger said. “I cheered on my teammates and tried to stay as calm and controlled as possible.”
Newburger knew his pommel routine was not one of his best, but with such a high start value, hitting an average routine can still produce a good score. Newburger’s score was to be high enough to send him into the finals, and a third day of competition.
The qualification was not much of a surprise to Newburger and his coaches, but in the sport of gymnastics, nothing is ever guaranteed.
“Everyone has a shot,” said Sharipov. “But after being third last year at NCAA, in house, we strongly believed that Mike could do this.”
Newburger was placed second to last to compete in the pommel horse final, and once again had to play the waiting game.
And this time, the stakes were even higher.
“It was the mentally toughest part of the competition,” Newburger said. “There was a lot of sitting around and with the spotlight routine, when you step up, you know everyone is looking at you.”
His positioning towards the end of the lineup was not all bad though, there are some perks to going later.
“The good thing about being near the end is that if you do a good routine, the judges have already seen everything else. So if you do a good routine, they can determine if you were better or not,” Newburger said.
When the time finally came for Newburger to perform his routine, he tried to just relax and listen to the music.
“An event like pommel horse has a flow to it, you can kind of swing with the music. And so the more you get some sort of pattern in your head, the easier it is.” Newburger said.
Newburger flowed through his routine, and landed what he said, was one of his better routines of the year.
He knew it was a solid routine, but did not know how good it was in comparison to the other competitors until assistant coach Casimiro Suarez made it quite apparent.
“As I was turning to salute the judge, he (Suarez) actually ran in and picked me up, he is kind of excitable when guys hit,” Newburger said. “It was one of those things where I didn’t really know how good it was until he ran in there an grabbed me, and then I knew it was a really good routine.”
There was still one more routine to go before Newburger could officially be crowned as champion, but he said coming off of the event gymnasts from other teams were already congratulating him.
After the final scores were in, Newburger had officially been named the 2013 NCAA Pommel Horse Champion, the first since Rustam Sharipov has taken over the head coach position at Ohio State.
“It is very special to me,” Sharipov said. “You have to understand that Mike came to this program as a walk on, and in three years he has not only made the team, he has helped the team to get where we are now.”
Members of the team also believe that Newburger has impacted them greatly. Will Jeffreys, a redshirt junior on the men’s gymnastics team, said that Newburger has come a long way and considers him a team leader.
“We are both walks ons, so he has inspired me to do what he’s done, work hard and take line up spots,” Jeffreys said. “And hopefully win!”