February 5, 2013 12:22:54 AM
Gared Chapman wants to take things to another level.
A year ago, Chapman burst onto the national scene at the Air Force Academy by earning USA Gymnastics All-America Honors on the still rings. It shouldn't be surprising that the freshman didn't know what his performance could mean down the road.
Late last year, Chapman, the son of West Lowndes High School baseball and football assistant coach Eddie Chapman, discovered the ramifications of his efforts.
On Thursday through Saturday, Chapman will join teammate Mac Ritchie at the Winter Cup Challenge in Las Vegas. Chapman and Ritchie will make their first appearance at the event, which will feature 96 of the top athletes in the nation. Included in the field will be four members of the United State Olympic team, three Olympic alternates, and 18 members of the U.S. Senior and Junior National Teams. Forty-five gymnasts, including Ritchie and Chapman, are scheduled to compete.
Performances at the meet will help determine the 15 gymnasts who will make up the U.S. Men's Senior National Team through the 2013 U.S. Gymnastic Championships in August.
Chapman qualified for the Winter Cup Challenge thanks to a second-place finish at the USAG Championships last March. He recorded a 15.0 on the still rings and then secured a career-high with a 15.1 at the team finals of the USAG Championships.
"I didn't even know you could qualify from that meet," Chapman said. "I was just trying to do my job. It was about that time we were getting to that peak and I was hitting the routines a lot more consistently."
As well as he fared at the USAG Championships, Chapman still thought his coach, Kip Simons, was kidding when he hinted at something big on the horizon. During a practice before Christmas break, Simons told Chapman he thought his new dismount could be his ticket to the Winter Cup. The comment struck Chapman as odd because he really didn't think the Winter Cup Challenge would be a goal this season. Instead, he was looking more toward 2014 to have a shot to compete with the sport's best.
Turns out Chapman is a year ahead of schedule. He will compete in the floor exercise, still rings, and vault. Ritchie will compete in the still rings, parallel bars and high bar. It is the fourth-straight year multiple Air Force Academy gymnasts have been selected to participate in the meet.
"I wouldn't say it was expected because it is always a battle to earn one of those spots and Gared stepped up in the finals and got second place," Simons said. "He rose to the occasion and got the job done when he needed to."
Simons is especially proud of Chapman and Ritchie because it helps solidify the Air Force Academy as one of the nation's top men's gymnastics programs. Air Force has been ranked in or near the top 10 for most of the season.
For Chapman, the trip to Las Vegas will be a great chance to test himself against the best. He said training on his workouts has been accelerated to increase the starting value of his routines. The starting values determine the difficult of the moves a gymnast attempts to execute. The higher the degree of difficulty, the higher score a gymnast can earn.
"I am just really excited about it," Chapman said. "I a trying to represent Air Force and get the school a reputation on a national level. A lot of people don't hear about the athletic programs at the service academies, but this is a good way to help us get representation."
Simons also is anxious to see how Chapman and Ritchie fare later this week. He said Chapman is one of the strongest athletes on the team pound for pound. He said Chapman has prepared for the meet to make sure he does more than raises his hand at the start of his routine and shows up. He believes Chapman has the potential to do more.
"Gared is a real student o the sport," Simons said. "he is somebody who takes it all in not just for himself but for everybody in the program," Simons said. "I know Gared will learn from this experience and become a better athlete and will bring that intensity back to the program and share the knowledge with everybody else. I think it is going to help take our program to the next level."
That sounds like a plan for Chapman, who plans to absorb everything he experiences and to use it all to lay the groundwork for next season.
"Getting invited, it is almost like being one of those big dogs," Chapman said. "It feels kind of cool."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.