April 21, 2014
By Ben Gotz, Athletic Communications Student Assistant
MINNEAPOLIS - The day before the 2014 National Collegiate Men's Gymnastics National Championships, Gopher junior Ellis Mannon carried a book with him during car rides and even to the pre-NCAA championships banquet. It wasn't a book full of inspirational quotes or notes for the competition ahead; it was one of Mannon's chemical engineering textbooks.
Mannon capped off his junior year as the first Gopher gymnast to win an individual NCAA title in over a decade, when he took home the 2014 pommel horse title with a score of 15.450. Mannon was also recognized the week earlier for achieving Academic All-Big Ten honors while pursuing his chemical engineering degree.
"I wonder sometimes how he does it," Gophers head coach Mike Burns said. "He has a pretty hard academic path, and he does great things in the gym."
Burns said Mannon's determination is what has made him so successful thus far.
"Ellis wants to excel at everything he does," Burns said. "He's one of those kids who, when he decides to put effort into something, he puts in 110 percent."
After finishing as the runner-up on pommel horse at the 2013 NCAA Championships and the 2013 Big Ten Championships, Mannon returned to the gym with evident determination; with the help of Minnesota assistant coach Russ Fystrom, Mannon crafted a new, unique skill to add to his pommel horse routine for the 2014 season.
"We came up with a skill that only I can do," Mannon said. "That helped me stick out from the crowd a little bit."
Mannon has been practicing the skill since August, trying to make sure it came naturally by the time the championship season came around again.
"He put a lot of effort in," Burns said. "It's a pretty long process, because the body has to get used to doing these skills."
Mannon used the skill throughout the year, winning the Big Ten title on pommel horse along the way. Even so, Mannon managed to save his best performance for the NCAA finals.
"He did his best routine at the most opportune moment," Burns said. "It worked out perfectly for him."
Mannon said he wasn't focused on what place he got, he just wanted to do his best.
"I do the best I can, and good things will come if I put in the work," Mannon said. "I just went up and hit my set. I had an idea that it might be the winning one, but when the score came up, it was still pretty exhilarating."
Mannon is just the fourth NCAA pommel horse champion in Gopher history, and the first national champion during Burns' tenure as head coach. It's a distinction Mannon does not take lightly, especially with the program's great past.
"There's a lot of history with gymnastics here at Minnesota," Mannon said. "It's kind of intimidating when you look at the names on the banners in the Sports Pavilion - like John Roethlisberger, a three-time Olympian, and Clay Strother, a two-time national champion and national team member. To even be in the same location as those guys is pretty special."
Even after an NCAA Championship, Mannon isn't resting on his laurels. He's already narrowed down plenty of goals for his senior season.
"I didn't make the top eight in all-around this year, but that was one of my goals," Mannon said. "I also want to be an All-American on parallel bars. Now that I've got the taste of winning in my mouth, I want to do it again."
"Ellis certainly isn't finished," Burns added. "He's a determined young man. When it comes time to do the all-around next year, he'll be ready."
Mannon said he is still uncertain of his plans following his graduation from the University of Minnesota next spring, but he did have one thing in particular in mind.
"The USA Championships are held in August every year, and in 2015 they'll be held in my hometown of Indianapolis," Mannon said. "I want to compete in Indianapolis with all my family and high school friends there to watch. That's my storybook ending."
Before then though, Mannon still has plenty left to accomplish, both in the classroom and the competition floor.
"He's a pretty amazing guy," Burns said. "He still has a lot left in the tank."
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