Shane Wiskus always will remember last month’s U.S. gymnastics championships as a watershed moment in his career. The Gophers junior won a national championship on vault, giving him his first U.S. senior title, and regained a place on the men’s national team after a surprise fourth-place finish in the all-around.
He doesn’t mind that he got much more attention for his jaw-dropping, one-handed catch on the horizontal bar. When a high-flying skill went awry, Wiskus reached for the bar with his right hand to try to avoid falling, then grabbed it and swung right into the next move as if he had planned it that way.
The video has gotten thousands of views on the web, generating some extra buzz around the Spring Park native.
“Out of fear, I stuck out my arm,’’ Wiskus said. “I tried to stay calm and stay smooth, just like I do in practice, and finish the routine strong. I just remember moving on and thinking, ‘What’s next?’ ”
After that breakthrough performance, Wiskus is thinking a little more ambitiously about the next steps in his career. He is competing this weekend at a selection camp in Colorado Springs that will determine the five-man U.S. team for the world championships next month in Stuttgart, Germany. This winter, he will return to college competition as the Gophers’ captain, with an eye toward making the U.S. team for next summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
Gophers coach Mike Burns said Wiskus has made huge strides this summer, entering the national championships with so much confidence that even his mistake on the horizontal bar couldn’t shake him. Saving that routine — and missing a bronze medal in the all-around by less than one point — only solidified Wiskus’ feeling that he is ready for bigger things.
“That meet kind of changed everything,” said Wiskus, who also won a bronze medal on parallel bars at the U.S. championships. “My goals shifted. I always had that Olympic dream, but I didn’t know it would feel as realistic as it does now.
“At nationals, it was one of those moments like, ‘Aha.’ It all came together, and it was more eye-opening than anything. The last couple of years, I felt like I wasn’t really part of that top-tier group. Now, I’m starting to feel like I belong.”
In each of his first two seasons with the Gophers, Wiskus has been named the Big Ten gymnast of the year and earned the silver medal in the all-around at the NCAA championships.
Still, he didn’t consider himself on par with the national team stars.
That began to change, Burns said, when Wiskus’ emotional strength started catching up with his physical gifts. His commitment and maturity grew throughout the summer, at the same time he was increasing the difficulty in his routines.
“This has been a pretty cool transformational period for Shane,” Burns said. “He took himself out of his old comfort zone and created a new one at a much higher level. The groove he’s in is really good right now.”
Burns called Wiskus’ one-handed grab one of the most impressive things he’s seen in the sport. Over the coming year, Wiskus will try to pull off something even harder: Juggling college classes, training and meets with national team camps and competitions.
The schedule culminates next June with the U.S. championships at the beginning of the month and the Olympic trials near the end.
Wiskus plans to approach it the same way he is tackling the Cassina, the notoriously hard skill that nearly caused him to crash at nationals.
He could have taken it out to make his routine easier at the world team selection camp. Instead, he plans to try it with even more gusto.
“I’m going into [the camp] not expecting anything,” he said. “I’m just trying to trust my training. I’ve already surprised a lot of people. At this point, everything else is icing on the cake.”