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Beijing Rings for Gymnasts

Cardinal teammates get an Olympic preview.

Photo: Rod Searcey

READY, STEADY: Sender holds the NCAA title for vault.

Standing in the brand-new, 18,000-seat Olympic gymnastics arena in Beijing, redshirt senior Sho Nakamori had to pinch himself. “There were all these [signs with] Chinese characters, and it was pretty exciting.”

Nakamori and senior David Sender traveled to China in November. The pre-Olympic invitational for competitors from 12 countries was designed to test the equipment and give officials a trial run. “The first day they had a problem with the temperature, and the gym was extremely hot,” Nakamori says. “Yeah, and the back of the gym was really cold,” Sender adds. “There was no happy medium.”

Nakamori and Sender have known each other long enough, as teammates in the junior ranks, that they can complete each other’s sentences like fraternal twins. Today they’re not only Cardinal teammates, but they also train together on the 14-member USA National Team.

In June, six of those athletes will be chosen for the Olympic team. Until then, both gymnasts are doing their best not to be consumed by the selection process. Sender, who tried out for the Olympics in 2004, when he was 18, has something of an elder statesman’s perspective. “The last time I was basically, like, ‘deer in the headlights’—I had no idea what was going on,” he recalls. “This time, it just seems like another competition, another step in the process. I think I’ll have a better handle on it.”

Sender, the 2007 and 2006 NCAA titleholder on vault, is also strong in floor exercises and rings, while Nakamori has been polishing his skills on the pommel horse, parallel bars and high bars. They’re used to the new open-ended scoring code that’s been in effect at world competitions for two years, but which may surprise Olympic viewers. “There are no more 10.0 perfect scores,” Sender says. “Instead, you’re going to see scores like 15 and 16.”

If Sender and Nakamori make the final cut for Beijing, the person they really want to see on their flight is coach Thom Glielmi, who’s part of the national coaching staff. “He’s a fun guy to be around at meets,” Nakamori says. “He’s pretty tense in the gym, when we’re working out. But when we go to meets, he relaxes a lot, and that takes the stress off us.”

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