April 30, 2014
The Big Ten is celebrating 100 years of the Medal of Honor in 2014. Minnesota will announce its 2014 male and female winners on June 4. Until then, we will look back at some previous student-athletes who were bestowed with the Big Ten Medal of Honor, which is one of the most prestigious conference awards in college athletics. The Big Ten Medal of Honor was first awarded in 1915 to one student-athlete from the graduating class of each university who had "attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work." It was the first award in intercollegiate athletics to demonstrate support for the educational emphasis placed on athletics and was acclaimed throughout the nation, and in particular by the NCAA "as one of the significant gestures yet made in college sports."
Big Ten Medal of Honor Memories:
Jayson Ness, Wrestling
Gopher gymnast John Roethlisberger received the Big Ten Medal of Honor in 1993, the year he won the first NCAA pommel horse championship in Gopher history and his third NCAA all-around championship, an NCAA record. Roethlisberger is also the only gymnast to have won four-straight Big Ten all-around titles. During his Gopher career, he was coached by his father Fred Roethlisberger, who was the Gophers’ head coach for 32 years from 1972 to 2004. After graduating with a double major in International Business and Finance and a minor in Speech Communications, John Roethlisberger was a member of the U.S. National Team from 1988 to 2000 and was a three-time Olympian in 1992, 1996 and 2000.
Gopher Sports: What did winning the Big Ten Medal of Honor mean to you?
John Roethlisberger: My college career at Minnesota is the athletic accomplishment that I’m most proud of. To receive that the Big Ten Medal of Honor, which has also been won by other Gopher gymnasts over the years, it was a big deal to me. Anytime I can be a part of the history of the University, it’s something that I hold very close to my heart. It’s something I’m very proud of, not just for me personally, but for the University and also the gymnastics program.
GS: What are some of your fondest memories of your time as a Gopher?
JR: Every time I got to go out there with my team and put on my uniform it was important to me. The Big Ten championships we won were right up there at the top. Anytime that you can bring home hardware to your school and put your school in the history books, it’s a big deal.
One of the most vivid memories I have is my freshmen year, when we got second at the NCAA championships and we hosted it at Williams Arena. Back then, we still competed in Williams Arena instead of the Sports Pavilion. We just missed winning the NCAA championships by one tenth of a point. I think it was one of the most exciting NCAA championships ever, being as close as it was. We had such an amazing group of guys, and it was awesome being on our home floor. We even had Herb Brooks speak to us, which was something I’ll never forget.
GS: What is the biggest lesson you took away from your time as a Gopher gymnast?
JR: It’s hard to narrow it down to just one or two things. I think in a broad perspective, it just made me realize how important college athletics is and how big of an impact it can have on a person. There are a lot of people whose lives sprung from that experience.
Also, being part of a team, working together and having a common goal are things you don’t necessarily experience in everyday – at least not in the way you do as part of a sports team. That’s something that I really do miss.
GS: How did your time as a Gopher gymnast prepare you for your international competitions?
JR: I think collegiate gymnastics teaches you how to compete. You compete a lot more in college than you do internationally, and it teaches you how to handle that pressure. Besides that, the staff I had, with my dad, had a strong philosophy of hard work, dedication and perseverance, and I think those qualities stayed with me after my collegiate career.
GS: What was it like having your dad as your head coach?
JR: It was great. At the end of the day, I’m grateful that I had that opportunity. We had a lot of pretty amazing experiences, and I was proud I got to help him win some Big Ten Championships and win his first NCAA individual title as a coach. He helped me go very far in this sport. All in all, it was pretty cool and we have a lot of fond memories.
GS: The Gophers had an NCAA champion this year in Ellis Mannon. Were you following his success and the Gophers this year?
JR: I was at the NCAA championships as a commentator for the Big Ten Network on Friday, but then I had to leave so I followed the meet on social media on Saturday. It was really cool to see Ellis win that event. I think Mike Burns is doing a heck of a job there at Minnesota, and I think he’s created a program that the whole state and University can be proud of. To see Ellis hold up that title, it’s awesome. It’s always great to see guys at the top of the podium wearing my two favorite colors.
GS: What are you up to today?
JR: I live in Tennessee, I’m married and I have a baby boy who’s a year old. That’s the most important part of my life. I also own a gymnastics camp with my 1996 Olympic teammate John Macready called Flip Fest. It’s fun, we have a great time. We do a 12-week camp in the summer, bringing in about 3,000 kids from around the country and around the world. It’s given me the opportunity to keep working with the sport that I love and the people that I love. It’s really been a dream come true.
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