Monday, October 18, 2004

Doo, doo, doo, Lookin' out my back door…
(Part I)

Photo Synthesis
As a few of you might know, I’ve been a little preoccupied with some other real-life matters lately, so my blog has suffered. I apologize for that on a number of fronts. However I am currently working on a new story that I'm really excited about. While I was pursuing the ol’ photo collection in order to find some images to include as visual aids for it, and I came across a number of images relating to some of my previous stories that I wanted to post, both for you and for myself.

My next series will be posted Wednesday or Thursday, after I get the photos (which were originally slides) back from the photo lab and scanned. In the meantime, here are some random shots from yesteryear. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Click on the photos to view them at a larger size.

Gymnastics, circa 1976-82
In the spring of 1976, during my sophomore year of college, my Long Beach City College Men’s Gymnastics Team captured its first National Junior College Championship; I was lucky enough to be the individual champion on Rings that year as well. Soon after we returned home, a photographer showed up at the gym to take some pictures. I'm not sure what they were used for as I never saw them in the newspaper, but I am awfully glad I was able to get a set of the prints. The following ones are of me, but there were a bunch of others featuring my teammates as well; five of them JC All-Americans, and most of whom would go on as I did, transferring to a four-year university to successfully exercise their remaining two or more seasons of NCAA gymnastics eligibility.

What an awesome team we had! And what a powerhouse program it was, run by Head Coach John Draghi — one of the most influential men in my life. After coming close and finishing 2nd as a team the previous year, this would be the first of six NJCAA Championships for LBCC over the next nine years. I think it’s pretty safe to say that ‘City’ was one of the great Men’s Collegiate Gymnastics dynasties of that or any era.

It was widely speculated by leading national publications at the time, that our ‘76 team was likely as good as any of the top five NCAA Division I schools overall that season. I cannot express the pride I feel to have been a part of such an awesome group of athletes.

The “Iron Cross”
Probably my favorite trick. I mean c'mon. We're talkin’ real fun right here. Need I say more?

The “German Uprise”
Next is my claim to gymnastics history, or so I’m told. It's a trick called a German Uprise, and I am reportedly the only person in history to have performed it the way I did on rings.

To describe it, you have to be familiar with a swing skill on rings that you may have seen on TV recently if you caught any of the Men’s Olympic Gymnastics coverage. A Giant Swing is when you bail forward from a handstand, swing through the bottom, circling back up to a handstand. Well the way I did my German Uprise was similar, except that instead of swinging around, with the rings out in front of my shoulders, a ‘German Rise’ is done by letting the rings go behind the shoulders, allowing the rest of your body to swing through and slingshot back up to a support, or "L" position.

In the picture below, I'm swinging through the bottom on my way back up to holding an "L" above the rings. Think of it like bungee jumping without the bungee. Better yet, think of it like bungee jumping — with your shoulder sockets being the bungee...

It was always my "big" trick; one that nobody else did at the time, or even could do. And according to what I've been told (by the man who is currently the director for the US Men's Gymnastics program, another former teammate (from Long Beach State), Yoichi Tomita), I was the first and am still the only one (as of this posting) who has ever performed the skill from a handstand in the United States and perhaps even the world.

Above is another competition pic from the UCLA Bruin Classic Invitational of 1980. You can see the position of the arms a bit better here. By this time I was already finished with my collegiate eligibility and was competing in three or four open meets a year, just for fun. All of those annual meets are long gone now, as are most of the Men's and Boys gymnastics programs in high schools and universities throughout the country.

The “Double-Pike”
My dismount, while tame by today's standards, was still an elite dismount at the time, and another one of my best tricks, a double back somersault in the piked position (i.e: piked, meaning, with the knees straight). I loved doing doubles. It was truly something I could do in my sleep. It's also something that I would like to be able to do again. But that may be wishing a bit too much.

This is the first flip...(one look at my hair, and you can understand why they called me "Wolfman" after I got through doing a few of these things...)

...And the second, coming in for the landing.

The Last First
Following my two years at ‘City’, I went on to compete my last two years and (eventually) graduate from Long Beach State University. My first season there in 1977 was cut short by injury (a broken back), but I was able to come back for my senior year and made it to the NCAA Individual Finals.

I was always sort of proud of the fact that the last first place I ever took in a gymnastics competition was the final one ever to be hosted by my alma mater. The Long Beach Invitational was one of the longest-standing men’s invitational gymnastics meets in Southern California. In 1982, I was finally graduating after having taken an extra four years to get the job done, due to gymnastics having dominated so much of my effort and concentration during the first four.

At that point I was still working out with the team three times a week, so I was still in pretty good shape.

In the meet hit one of my best routines ever and earned the highest score of my career with a 9.65. The following year they dropped the Men's Gymnastics programs throughout the UC and Cal State University systems. Men's gymnastics became a club sport, and remains one today.

I continued to compete occasionally for the next four years, finally ending my competing days with a third-place finish in the Santa Monica Gymfest on Labor Day of 1986, a little more than a month after my 30th birthday.

Dang. Couldn't find that picture...

Next: More pics...
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