If Mike Burns had watched a different movie — “I, Tonya,” or maybe “Girls Trip” — he probably wouldn’t have found any words of wisdom. But the Gophers men’s gymnastics coach chose to view the Winston Churchill biopic “Darkest Hour” on the journey home from the Big Ten championships, stumbling into a much-needed stroke of inspiration.
The second-ranked Gophers entered the Big Ten meet April 6 with visions of winning a team title. They finished an unhappy fifth, with only two weeks to get their minds right before the NCAA championships. Enter Churchill, whose quote at the end of “Darkest Hour” made its way to the notes Burns hands out to his athletes after every meet.
“It said: ‘Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts,’ ” Burns recalled. “It was so fitting. I told the guys, ‘Hey, that was failure, but it’s not fatal. You have an opportunity to recalibrate, rethink and redeem yourselves.’ ”
The Gophers came through, equaling the program’s best-ever NCAA result by finishing second to Oklahoma at the national championships on April 21 in Chicago. In what Burns called one of his proudest moments ever, the Gophers hit all 32 routines and earned 11 All-America citations.
Freshman Shane Wiskus of Mound-Westonka, the Big Ten Gymnast of the Year, was second in the all-around competition, fourth on rings and seventh on high bar. Justin Karstadt was third on parallel bars and fifth on pommel horse, while Luke Aldrich, Tristan Duran, Yaroslav Pochinka, Jalon Stephens, Shaun Herzog and Vitali Kan also had top-eight finishes.
The Gophers were well-prepared for the Big Ten meet, Burns said, but they had a few costly errors they could not overcome. Churchill’s words, and what Burns called the “high-octane fuel” of disappointment, ensured the outcome they wanted in Chicago.
“They came away from the Big Ten meet with a real sense of lost opportunity,” Burns said. “But they didn’t dwell on it. They moved on and focused on what they knew they were capable of doing.
“The guys had a set of goals posted all year long, and they were committed all year long. When our score came up on the scoreboard after the final routine [at the NCAA meet], it was the most amazing moment ever.”
Burns was named the College Gymnastics Association Central Region Coach of the Year, and Wiskus was named Rookie of the Year.