Aug. 18: Gophers gymnastics star seeks further success on pommel horse

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 28, 2014 - 6:38 PM

Ellis Mannon hopes to build on NCAA title at U.S. gymnastics championships.


Ellis Mannon practiced his routine before this weekend’s U.S. gymnastics meet in Pittsburgh.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

It is not a glamorous apparatus, nor a particularly popular one. Among gymnasts, the pommel horse is nicknamed “the pig,” underscoring its reputation as a frustrating, challenging piece of equipment that bruises both legs and egos.

Ellis Mannon knew none of that when he was introduced to the horse as a 9-year-old. The Gophers senior has since become a virtuoso, a testament to an athlete who embraces the difficult. Mannon, 21, won the NCAA title on pommel horse last spring — with a routine that included moves he created — and continued an outstanding year by making the field for this weekend’s U.S. gymnastics championships in Pittsburgh.

The Indianapolis native likes a good challenge outside the gym, too. He is majoring in chemical engineering and economics, is a classically-trained violinist and is scheduling his summer training around a full-time internship at a cereal factory. “He’s a thinking man’s athlete,” Gophers coach Mike Burns said, “the kind that comes around every 20 years or so.”

It’s taken years of grueling repetition for Mannon to tame the pommel horse, testing his appreciation for its unique rigors. Still, when everything clicks — which is often — his fluid, confident showmanship makes it look easy.

“I enjoy it, but there are days when I just can’t stand it,” said Mannon, the first Gophers men’s gymnast to win an NCAA title in 12 years. “With pommel horse, you have to practice as much as you can — and you have to be on top of your mental game, or you’re going to fall off.

“At meets, there are a lot of people who do pommel horse just to get their all-around score. They see my horse routine and think, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ That’s kind of an ego boost. But this event can definitely humble you, too.”

Mannon immediately fell for the sport when an aunt enrolled him in a gymnastics summer camp. He soon teamed with club coach Gene Watson, a pommel horse specialist. With his extreme flexibility, calm demeanor and analytical mind, Mannon was built for the event; with Watson’s expertise and enthusiasm, he grew to love it.

He chose to attend the U over Stanford because he felt the Gophers wanted him more. Assistant coach Russ Fystrom, a former Gopher who won a Big Ten title on the horse in 1973, kept Mannon moving forward. In only his second college season, Mannon finished second in pommel horse at the Big Ten and NCAA championships, and he won both titles as a junior last spring.

His routine showcases strength, grace and a cool steadiness, as well as a touch of creativity. Mannon invented two variations on the “flair,” in which the gymnast balances with his hands on the horse while spinning with his legs outstretched and separated in helicopter fashion. It’s a spectacular, crowd-pleasing skill, which helped Mannon overcome pressure to deliver one of the finest performances at the NCAA meet.

“He’s got some innovative skills that really set him apart from the competition,” Burns said. “Pommel horse is a long-term project. He’s been well-trained since he was a youngster, and he’s been blessed with desire, discipline and determination.”

In 2011, Mannon won the pommel horse title at the U.S. championships in the junior 16-18 division. He made his senior-level championship debut last year and tied for 15th in the event, but his second-day score of 14.850 was the seventh-highest at the meet.

Mannon also competes in the all-around, taking sixth place at the Big Ten meet and 11th at the NCAA championships. His goal is to finish his college career with another NCAA title next spring, then wind down his days in the gym with an appearance at the 2015 U.S. championships, which will be held in his hometown of Indianapolis.

He won’t be abandoning his thirst for challenge. Mannon’s engineering career and a violin waiting to be played again will help fill the void left by the pommel horse, the pig that became a Stradivarius in his hands.

“Having some success on it definitely helps you enjoy it more,” he said. “I know when I do a good routine, I usually get a little reaction from the crowd. That’s kind of cool.”


  • related content

  • Gymnast Ellis Mannon handed an iPad to one of his coaches, Russ Fystro...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Atlanta 2
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
NY Yankees 1
Detroit 5 FINAL
Baltimore 4
Toronto 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Cincinnati 2 FINAL
Cleveland 4
San Diego 3 FINAL
Seattle 4
Chicago WSox 6 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Kansas City 13 FINAL
Texas 2
Oakland 9 FINAL
San Francisco 2
Wisc-Milwaukee 0 FINAL
Milwaukee 8
Arizona 6 FINAL
Colorado 3
Univ of Minnesota 1 FINAL
Minnesota 3
New York 82 FINAL
Indiana 105
Phoenix 105 FINAL
Orlando 100
Cleveland 120 FINAL
Toronto 112
Utah 84 FINAL
Boston 85
Charlotte 115 FINAL
Brooklyn 91
Denver 100 FINAL
Minnesota 85
Detroit 85 FINAL 0:04
New Orleans 88
LA Lakers 94 FINAL
Miami 100
Philadelphia 110 1st OT 1:44
Oklahoma City 115
Memphis 102 FINAL
Houston 100
Sacramento 70 4th Qtr 4:53
San Antonio 107
Milwaukee 9:30 PM
Golden State
Portland 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Ottawa 3 FINAL
Winnipeg 1
NY Rangers 1 1st OT 4:33
Detroit 1
Pittsburgh 0 1st Prd 5:29
Colorado 0
Montreal 0 1st Prd 6:22
Anaheim 1
Longwood 65 FINAL
Presbyterian 61
Campbell 64 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 72
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 80
Ohio State 77 FINAL
Penn State 67
Maine 66 FINAL
Albany 83
Duquesne 81 FINAL
Fordham 66
George Washington 67 FINAL
George Mason 51
Tennessee 78 FINAL
LSU 63
Notre Dame 71 FINAL
Louisville 59
SE Missouri St 74 FINAL
Morehead State 79
St Francis-PA 73 FINAL
Mount St Marys 58
Hartford 63 FINAL
New Hampshire 67
Wagner 68 FINAL
Robert Morris 91
Long Island 70 FINAL
St Francis-NY 79
La Salle 50 FINAL
Saint Josephs 55
Providence 79 FINAL
Seton Hall 66
South Florida 74
Binghamton 57 FINAL
Stony Brook 62
Vermont 66
Sacred Heart 85 FINAL
Bryant 91
Richmond 56 FINAL
Massachusetts 53
Wake Forest 51 FINAL
Duke 94
Purdue 66 FINAL
Michigan State 72
Miami-Florida 67 FINAL
Pittsburgh 63
St Bonaventure 64 FINAL
Saint Louis 48
New Mexico St 69 FINAL
TX-Pan American 48
Houston 68 FINAL
Tulane 63
Howard 62 FINAL
TCU 51 2nd Half 8:38
Oklahoma State 67
Cincinnati 43 2nd Half 7:40
Tulsa 39
USC 58 2nd Half 9:20
Miss State 54 2nd Half 4:57
Vanderbilt 56
Utah State 51 2nd Half 3:35
Wyoming 74
St Johns 40 2nd Half 13:47
Marquette 34
SIU Edwardsville 30 2nd Half 16:17
Eastern Ill 42
Air Force 18 1st Half 4:10
Fresno State 28
Nebraska 12 1st Half 7:27
Illinois 17
Colorado State 24 1st Half 7:23
Nevada 18
Boise State 21 1st Half 9:28
San Jose St 11
San Diego St 10:00 PM
Oregon 10:00 PM
Oregon State
UC Santa Barbara 10:59 PM
Toledo 64 FINAL
Northern Ill 68
Wake Forest 69 FINAL
Boston College 53
Eastern Illinois 35 FINAL
UT Martin 68
Austin Peay 69 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 72
Virginia Tech 57 FINAL
NC State 56
Massachusetts 55 FINAL
St Bonaventure 49
Auburn 71 FINAL
Florida 49
Penn State 63 FINAL
Indiana 68
Clemson 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 80
Davidson 63 FINAL
La Salle 74
Loyola-Maryland 46 FINAL
Lafayette 58
Boston U 48 FINAL
Colgate 58
Coll of Charleston 58 FINAL
James Madison 107
Delaware 76 FINAL
Elon 77
Drexel 58 FINAL
Northeastern 42
Hofstra 75 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 76
Towson 56 FINAL
William & Mary 68
Miami-Ohio 55 FINAL
Akron 67
Ball State 85 FINAL
Central Michigan 69
Buffalo 55 FINAL
Bowling Green 47
Western Mich 65 FINAL
Eastern Michigan 74
Ohio U 69 FINAL
Kent State 56
Youngstown St 62 FINAL
Cleveland State 73
Illinois-Chicago 54 FINAL
Wright State 74
Alabama 56 FINAL
Vanderbilt 66
Detroit 60 FINAL
Milwaukee 56
Purdue 58 FINAL
Wisconsin 56
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Who is the best center on a Twin Cities sports team?

Weekly Question