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


Oakland - J. Lester 7:07 PM
Kansas City - J. Shields
Minnesota 10/2/14 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Seattle 10/6/14 7:30 PM
NY Islanders 6:00 PM
NY Rangers 6:00 PM
Ottawa 7:00 PM
Carolina 7:00 PM
St. Louis
Tampa Bay 7:30 PM
Colorado 8:00 PM
Los Angeles 9:30 PM
San Jose
Fla Atlantic 10/2/14 6:00 PM
UCF 10/2/14 6:00 PM
Arizona 10/2/14 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Eastern Mich 10/4/14 1:00 PM
North Texas 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Winnipeg 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Calgary 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Edmonton 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters


Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pm30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 am
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA




question of the day

Poll: How will the Gophers do against Michigan?

Weekly Question