By Michael Kinney
STILLWATER — Gymnastics season is more than four months away for the University of Oklahoma. Despite that, several current, incoming and former Sooners will be busy this weekend competing in the P&G Gymnastics Championships at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
The tournament, which used to be known as the Visa Championships, starts today and will run through Sunday. It features the top gymnasts in the country as they battle for a spot in the World Championships Sept. 30-Oct. 6 in Antwerp, Belgium
The list of Sooners competing is long and includes current teammates Kanji Oyama and Michael Squires. This will be the first U.S. Championship at any level for Squires, who won the NCAA still rings title as a sophomore last season to earn a spot in this weekend’s competition.
Oyama, entering his sophomore year, is competing at his third national championship meet, but his first in the senior division. Oyama earned a berth to this year’s national meet after finishing fourth in the all-around at the National Qualifier meet last month in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“It’s an opportunity for them,” OU coach Mark Williams said. “They may not be on the level where they’ll make the national team, but Mike Squires being the national champion on rings, he is competing for a spot on the World Championship team and if he does a good job there that’s a possibility. For Kanji Oyama it’s a good opportunity for him to stack up with the country’s best in the all-around and see if he can get himself in the realm where he is competing to be on the team in the years to come.”
Squires and Oyama will be joined by past Oklahoma greats Jake Dalton, Steven Legendre and Alex Naddour in the senior competition. All three were part of the Olympic team in London.
Dalton is the reigning U.S. floor and vault champion and tied for fifth in the all-around last season at the U.S. Championships before competing on the Olympic team in London. So far in 2013, Dalton has won two of the biggest meets of the season, including top honors at the AT&T American Cup and Winter Cup Challenge.
Legendre was a silver medalist on floor at last year’s national meet, finishing in a tie for 10th overall. The 2012 Olympic alternate has competed little this season as he recovers from various injuries but looks to place high on floor and vault.
“It’s been a very different sequence for Jake and Steve after the Olympics,” Williams said. “They had to go on the Olympic tour and had down time so it’s been a bit of a struggle for them to get back into training schedule. I think they’re looking forward to the opportunity to getting out there and doing gymnastics again and compete.”
Incoming freshmen Allan Bower, Lee Grogan, Alex Powarzynski and Colin VanWicklen will also participate at the junior level.
Former Sooners and national team members Jonathan Horton and Chris Brooks were both forced to withdraw due to injuries. The pair finished fourth and fifth, respectively, last season. Horton is a two-time all-around champion at the national meet, winning the title in 2009 and 2010.