Brandon Wynn: ‘It’s Just Brute Strength’
‘It’s just brute strength’: Buckeye is in several gymnastics events, but it’s on torturous rings that he’s a champion
The Columbus Dispatch
The sight is mesmerizing, almost magical.
A man is suspended nearly 10 feet in the air, grasping a ring in each hand, arms outstretched, body parallel to the floor, an airplane in human form.
“It looks like you’re floating,” Brandon Wynn said.
He knows that sensation, as well as the pain that comes from preparation and performance on the rings in gymnastics.
Last year, Wynn won a U.S. championship on rings and was the top American finisher in that event when he placed 10th at the World Championships. The Ohio State senior is aiming to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.
First up is the NCAA men’s championship from Thursday through Saturday in St. John Arena, where Wynn hopes to win his second consecutive NCAA title in rings.
Wynn is good enough at vault, high bar, parallel bars, pommel horse and floor exercise to have been a member of the past two U.S. national teams, but one event defines his reputation.
“He’s our top guy on the rings,” said Dennis McIntyre, men’s program director for USA Gymnastics.
One look at Wynn and you know why. It appears Marvel comics sketched the native of Voorhees, N.J. His muscles have muscles.
“Brandon Wynn is a specimen,” said OSU co-head coach Blaine Wilson, a three-time Olympian. “The front part of his shoulders is so big, his back goes forward.”
Gymnasts call it gorilla posture, all the better to meet the grueling sport’s demands. And the rings test a gymnast’s strength like no other event.
They’re suspended for about 30 seconds in a routine, and must perform swings, handstands and cross positions. Each strength move is required to be held for at least two seconds.
“It’s just brute strength,” Wynn said, “when you’re doing these maneuvers.”
Practice makes muscles
“I’ve never lifted weights,” said Wynn, who this month became the first OSU gymnast to win a Big Ten championship on the rings in consecutive years.
Wynn does occasionally use small free weights for conditioning and maintenance, but like all gymnasts, his strength and physique come primarily from practicing routines.
“The only thing that’s going to get you stronger on the rings is to do the rings,” said Raj Bhavsar, a former OSU gymnast and member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team.
They call it “ring strength,” and Wynn gets his by working on the rings two or three times a week, sometimes while wearing a 30-pound weight vest.
“Brandon can easily hold his own with the rest of the world on ring strength,” said Wilson, considered America’s top rings performer during his 11-year career on the U.S. national team.
Strength has been a necessary part of excelling at the rings since the Germans created the event (using triangular-shaped handles instead of rings) in the early 1800s.
Grace is needed to hold still the rings and wires, but the demands of muscle trump intricacy.
“I don’t know what the human limit is, but gymnasts are starting to push it as far as what the body can endure,” said Bhavsar, the 2002 NCAA all-around champion.
Strength moves, however, can captivate crowds.
“There’s a little bit of amazement for people,” McIntyre said, “when they see an athlete hold himself in a position that most of them don’t understand how they got there.”
Tough on the body
Tedious hours on the rings have led Wynn to defend his NCAA title this week with a routine burned into muscle memory.
“A strength sequence is practiced over and over again,” he said. “In an Olympic year, I probably do the sequence over 1,000 times.”
Wynn hasn’t had any injuries specifically because of the rings, but others have fallen prey to the event’s wear and tear.
There are moments during a routine on the rings when a gymnast is putting a strain on his shoulders that is seven to eight times the weight of his body.
He knows. He’s had five shoulder surgeries.
“Just maintenance,” he called them.
Wilson, now three years into retirement at age 36, was competing on the rings in February 2004 when he suddenly knew something was wrong with his left biceps.
“Take that little tendon on the end of a chicken leg and rip it off the bone,” he said. “That’s what I thought of when I did it. I could feel it tearing.”
Surgeons repaired his left biceps with a titanium wire, and six months later Wilson helped the U.S. win the team silver medal at the Athens Olympics.
“If I tried to do rings now, I would probably tear everything,” Wilson said. “I can probably still hold a cross if I had to, but I’m not training those muscles anymore.”
Instead, he’s content tutoring America’s latest lord of the rings for yet another challenge in this week’s NCAA championships.
Only the strong will survive.