By Taylor McNitt
It’s no secret that Iowa’s strongest event is the pommel horse. Go back in time, however, and this statement would have been a shocker.
“Pommel horse is notorious for being one of the harder events in men’s gymnastics,” said assistant men’s gymnastics coach Ben Ketelsen. “It can be a make-or-break team score event.”
Just what makes pommel horse so difficult?
In order to successfully execute a routine on this apparatus, the gymnast has to keep his center of mass over the base of support. Easy enough, except that his center of mass is swinging around and around. He’s constantly falling from the base, but swinging in the other direction just in time to fall in that direction instead – and so on.
To compound this, the gymnast’s routine must be as difficult as he can manage while still successfully maintaining his dynamic stability.
“[The pommel horse is] by far the hardest event, and any team that can be good on it, that can count five hits with the quality that we have, will easily rack up a couple points in team competition,” said men’s gymnastics head coach JD Rieve.
This is the key to Iowa’s competitive edge. It’s a point of pride and necessity.
“Clearly, our pommel horse team is one of the best in the nation,” said Ketelsen. “Almost all five of our guys could [hold] All-American status. Starting out the meet on one of our strong events is a huge momentum builder for us. If we can go out and win at the other five, it’s going to put us in a pretty solid spot going forward into Big Ten [championships] and NCAA [championships].”
The Hawkeyes have already taken quite a few hits in competition – due to the other five events – so this might be a long shot. But even so, any claim to the horse is one a team can tout.
But Iowa hasn’t always been able to tout it.
“It was our worst, and we have really been trying to address that weakness,” said Rieve. “Between a lot of recruiting and a lot of hard work, it’s become our best event, which is kind of cool.”
Freshman Bennet Huang is the most recent result of that recruiting. In the match against Oklahoma on Feb. 10, he scored the second-highest score on the pommel horse for Iowa, an admirable score of 14.000.
Senior captain Austin Hodges has also been an important factor to Iowa’s current dominance on the horse. His highest score on the pommel horse this season was against Oklahoma, when he scored a 14.350 and claimed the event title.
He attests this to key body features.
“I have long arms, so it’s easier for me to get my hips elevated and makes it look like a flat circle,” he explained. “For a lot of the shorter guys, it’s harder for them to get their arms behind their backs. I have decently flexible shoulders, which helps, and I’m just long, so it looks nicer.”
Whatever the reason behind his success, skill is still a part of the picture, and all of Iowa’s pommel horse team has got it. And that’s the magic.