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Sunday, June 16, 2024

From Europe to State School: Penn State males’s gymnastics has a heavy worldwide presence

For a lot of student-athletes, faculty athletics marks one of many largest transitions of their life, touring throughout states to attend massive universities and attain new ranges inside their sport. For a few of Penn State’s prime male gymnasts – Akseli Karsikas, Kacper Garnczarek, and Ian Raubal – this transition meant shifting throughout the Atlantic Ocean.

Whereas many groups in NCAA males’s and ladies’s gymnastics have a global staff member, Penn State’s males’s teaching workers has had nice success in recruiting worldwide and Puerto Rican gymnasts, together with Ethan Dick (New Zealand), Wyatt Tyndall (Canada), Sam Zakutney (Canada), Alexis Torres (Puerto Rico), and Ingvar Jochumsson (Iceland). This has not modified as nearly 25% of Penn State’s present roster is made up of worldwide gymnasts.

A European melting pot

The newest worldwide newcomer to Blissful Valley is Karsikas, who’s a part of the Finnish nationwide staff. Though he’s a freshman, he brings a wealth of expertise to the staff as he has competed on the previous two world championships. His skill to deal with high-intensity moments has been on show this season as he has averaged a 13.4+ on excessive bar.

Karsikas’ path to discovering his place at Penn State stemmed from his aspirations to pursue increased schooling and proceed on his dream of turning into an Olympian. Past the NCAA, the alternatives to pursue each are fairly restricted.

“For my nation, it’s fairly difficult to do gymnastics and college, so [I] researched the place I may research and do gymnastics on the identical time. I knew one of many Finnish staff members, [Franz Card], had gone to Penn State, and he launched me to NCAA gymnastics,” mentioned Karsikas. From there, he bought related to the teaching workers and the remaining was historical past. 

It was an identical path for sophomore Garnczarek, who traveled from Poland to State School. Nevertheless, Garnczarek did have extra direct publicity to NCAA gymnastics from junior competitions.

“My staff, Poland, had the chance to compete in a number of meets within the U.S., and one was the West Level Open. I used to be competing within the junior session, however considered one of my coaches mentioned we must always keep and watch the NCAA competitors… We watched prelims and finals, and following the meet, my coach talked to [Penn State assistant coach] Carlos [Vazquez]… That dialog introduced me to the NCAA and faculty gymnastics,” mentioned Garnczarek. He additionally knew a former Minnesota Golden Gopher, Timmy Kutyla, as Kutyla had competed on the Polish nationwide championships in his junior profession, giving him one other useful resource to find out about faculty gymnastics within the States.

Sophomore and co-captain Raubal had a quicker strategy to touchdown his spot on Penn State’s staff.

“The spring once I was graduating highschool is once I began to consider [NCAA gymnastics],” mentioned Raubal.

Regardless of a later recruiting timeline, Raubal was in a position to safe his spot rapidly and is now a mainstay in Penn State’s lineups. “My dad and mom have been a bit of shocked about me leaving [Switzerland] for 4 years, however my household is worldwide in a method in that we’ve lived in numerous locations, so they’re accustomed to the household being overseas,” he added. Raubal and his household have been extra ready for this transition as that they had beforehand lived within the U.S. and had expertise dwelling in a number of nations. There was clearly little adjustment after Raubal completed his freshman season as one of many staff’s statistical MVPs. This season, Raubal is as soon as once more making an impression and executing routines worthy of the All-American moniker, similar to his 14.550 on parallel bars towards Ohio State.

Worthwhile challenges and trade-offs

Regardless of their worldwide expertise, discovering instant success within the NCAA generally is a new problem, similar to for his or her American counterparts. Competing on a weekly foundation and an extended season whereas pursuing increased schooling will put a pressure on anybody’s skill to carry out. Having competitions early within the yr can be a hurdle of competing on the collegiate degree.

“I often was not able to compete by January… I might nonetheless be coaching abilities earlier than placing them into routines, however now, I’m in routine form from January to Could,” Garnczarek mentioned. With the 5 routines up, 5 routines rely mannequin, opponents are anticipated to keep up a excessive hit charge, which makes growing the issue of routines fairly a problem. “The consistency of my routines is best now, however I can not do routines as exhausting as I used to do to make lineups… I’m extra assured now with my routines, however I generally miss the sensation of competing one thing loopy,” Garnczarek admitted. 

One other hurdle within the transition is variations in gear. There are a lot of gear suppliers internationally similar to Speith, Janssen Fritsen, and so forth, however the predominant gear producer within the U.S. is AAI. Transitioning to AAI gear will be tough for worldwide gymnasts, as many desire different manufacturers.

“The primary distinction [between AAI and Spieth] is flooring… When you find yourself on the competitors seeing different gymnasts do E and F-valued abilities offers you confidence, however it’s more durable… If I can do my units on AAI, I can do my units anyplace,” mentioned Garnczarek, relating to the gear change.

“It took me time to get used to excessive bar, parallel bars, and flooring. Principally it’s completely different, however I’m simply pleased to have all of the occasions,” mentioned Karsikas, giving his perspective.

With that mentioned, the elevated alternatives to showcase one’s coaching and intense feelings present in an NCAA competitors could make all the extra routines value it.

“What I get pleasure from most is the feelings that come together with competing… It’s not simply the celebration in your personal routine however in your teammates,” Raubal mentioned. “Seeing your teammate hit their routine and stick the dismount, then simply going loopy is enjoyable and makes competing much more enjoyable if you end up pleased to see everybody round you succeed.”

On prime of the advantages of having the ability to compete whereas advancing one’s schooling is the institutional help from the college.

“The help you get [at Penn State] as an athlete is unimaginable… As a gymnast with a time-intense coaching schedule, none of what we do can be doable with out the establishment working with you and supporting you,” Raubal defined.

That is extraordinarily necessary for opponents who’re additionally touring overseas to compete.

“The qualification course of for staff choice has been good between the college and the [Swiss] nationwide staff… For larger competitions, I can do video trials in season, and I’ll ship movies over and they’re going to truly present these movies on the trial in between opponents as if I’m competing there, and so I will be judged pretty,” Raubal famous about persevering with to compete at each the faculty and elite ranges.

Karsikas additionally famous the extent of help, saying, “I used to be coaching on the nationwide coaching heart for the previous yr, and we had trainers however we didn’t get the snacks and care that I do now.” 

What could also be the perfect profit of coaching at a college like Penn State is the massive quantity of athletes pushing for the Olympics from quite a lot of nations. Having so many people setting their aspirations past the NCAA realm can push the boundaries of a staff and create a uniquely productive coaching setting.

“Within the golf equipment, there should not many gymnasts on one staff,” Garnczarek mentioned. “So it makes such a distinction once I see 15 folks working exhausting. Even when I’m drained, I really feel like there is no such thing as a method that I can cease… I’m not saying I didn’t push myself in Poland, however it’s a lot simpler once I see many extra pushing themselves.”

Fairly presumably the toughest transition for these opponents didn’t happen within the health club.

One of many notable instructional variations between European and U.S. universities is the change in construction and grading. Most worldwide universities are closely reliant on exams for grading, placing excessive strain on the ultimate exams in a category. This differs from the U.S., which frequently incorporates attendance, papers, and homework into the grading scale.

“In elementary faculty, we had homework and the trainer advised you what to do, however in college, the examination is the one factor that issues,” mentioned Karsikas, in regard to European instructional norms.

Whereas the U.S. mannequin can present extra construction and stop a scholar from falling behind, it could possibly additionally create time constraints and challenges week-to-week.

“Within the U.S., it’s much more structured, the place all the pieces contributes to your grade… In case you’re not nice on the examination, it offers you an opportunity to have a buffer if you happen to do all of the assignments and homework, however for us, the place time is a giant constraint, that’s generally more difficult,” mentioned Raubal, whereas contemplating the advantages and challenges of every system.

This holds very true for student-athletes who’re pursuing rigorous levels like Raubal, Karsikas, and Garnczarek, who’re learning biomedical engineering, laptop science, and economics, respectively.

As for the advantages, Garnczarek expressed a affinity for the grading type – “This technique works; you don’t fall behind as simply.” 

Moreover, the general dimension and scholar physique of universities within the U.S. will be vastly bigger.

“The most important spotlight is that I didn’t know there was gonna be 50,000 folks, which is definitely so loopy – so many college students that I can meet and study with… In Poland, it’s completely different… Within the U.S., all the pieces is multi function place, kinesiology, economics, and enterprise are all present in the identical place. In Poland, they’re break up into separate universities,” Garnczarek defined.

Kariskas additionally famous the power of the group discovered on a university campus: “It’s a small group. We eat in the identical place, exercise in the identical place. In Finland, there may be not such a group… Everyone seems to be right here collectively, and there may be not many individuals not a part of the college right here.”

Past faculty and gymnastics, there are cultural and language challenges at play.

Whereas all three gymnasts spoke English (along with a number of different languages), the vocabulary, lingo, and slang of American English can change fairly quick.

“The toughest factor for me was the language barrier… I’ll say my English is a lot better than earlier than I got here… It’s not resulting from my vocabulary however the type folks discuss right here. After I discuss to a local speaker, it’s so a lot simpler, however the slang right here is tough to regulate to,” Garnczarek mentioned.

Having different teammates who’ve needed to make the transition can ease the method. “I actually get pleasure from dwelling with Kacper; he simply understands among the cultural variations and stuff like that, being from Europe,” Raubal mentioned.

The educational curve isn’t an excessive amount of of a problem although; all three athletes are lively on social media, particularly Instagram, with robust followings.

After which there’s (American) soccer tradition.

Whereas the devoted following and stadium dimension rival European soccer, particularly within the Massive Ten Convention, the complete recreation day expertise can differ. It’s a high-energy expertise with an typically overwhelming variety of folks, so it’s not shocking that it’s not for everybody.

“The primary couple of video games have been actually good, seeing like 100,000 folks was fairly loopy… However why do folks stand for 4 hours?” Garnczarek mentioned.

“Soccer right here is insane. I needed to study the principles once I bought right here, however as soon as I bought that down it grew to become much more enjoyable to observe… however it’s not utterly for me,” Raubal admitted.

All eyes on Paris

Past Penn State’s U.S. athletes pushing for the Olympics, particularly Josh Karnes, the Nittany Lions’ European contingent and New Zealander Ethan Dick will probably be trying to make it to the Paris Olympics this summer time, however the routes to qualification range.

“The trail to the Olympics is sort of completely different for everybody. For the U.S. guys and me, with Switzerland already qualifying a staff, it’s actually about how we evaluate inside our nationwide groups. Whereas Ethan, Akseli, and Kacper, they actually should win their very own spot,” Raubal defined.

Garnczarek and Karsikas will each be vying for an Olympic berth on the 2024 Males’s European Inventive Gymnastics Championships from April 24-28.

The issue is that there’s just one spot.

“My profession objective is to make the Olympics. There is just one spot from the European Championships, with many nations competing… There may be at all times an opportunity, but when not this yr, I’ll attempt once more in 2028,” Garnczarek mentioned.

Karsikas maintains an identical outlook on the competitors, stating that whatever the end result, “I need to hold going till 2028.”

Europeans is a fast turnaround from the NCAA championships in Columbus, Ohio, which finish on Saturday, April 20. 4 days later, males’s Euros will start, giving each Garnczarek and Karsikas a lower than 4 day turnaround to get to Rimini, Italy, and be able to compete.

“I already certified to the European championships this yr in Italy, and it’s 4 days after NCAA, so proper after the competitors, I’m going to fly from Columbus to Rimini,” Garnczarek mentioned of his plans.

One thing that will go missed is the profit to those worldwide athletes of competing as a person versus with a staff. People like Garnczarek and Karsikas can afford to compete at NCAAs and make the fast turnaround to Euros – they’re competing for themselves and don’t have to contemplate the logistics of the staff competitors.

“It may be actually tough [navigating NCAA gymnastics while] being on the Swiss nationwide staff resulting from our excessive degree, as numerous the blokes do gymnastics professionally. For instance, if there’s a large competitors just like the European championships, I’m to be anticipated to be there two to a few weeks earlier than the competitors so I can put together with the staff, which is unimaginable in season,” Raubal defined.

However that’s subsequent week – proper now, the main target is on ending the season robust on the NCAA championships.

With Karsikas, Garnczarek, and Raubal in Penn State’s arsenal, the Nittany Lions are primed for a robust exhibiting at nationals, and the European melting pot is robust for years to return in Blissful Valley.

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