The Stanford name holds value to student athletes, no matter if measured by academics or the strength of its storied men’s gymnastics program. While the end goal of competing for the Cardinal may be similar for many, their paths to the Farm couldn’t be more unique.
For Marcus Kushner, family ties and being local to the school are key. His father is a Stanford men’s gymnastics alum and grew up in San Mateo, California—close enough to Palo Alto that he did his club training at Stanford Boys’ Gymnastics. Training on campus helped Kushner with the transition from being a high school athlete to a college freshman, as he was comfortable with many of the coaches before joining the team. His work ethic in the gym as a pommel horse specialist was on display every day as a potential recruit, rather than only at competitions. With an opportunity that not many get, he made the most of it, and he matter of factly states, “Who I am in the gym is really reflective of my gymnastics.”
His phrase, “It pays to be good at pommels,” holds merit, being the event that few approach with the patience it demands. Coming into collegiate gymnastics with the level 10 pommel horse national title to his name was no small feat. Neither is training a skill that hasn’t yet been inked into the FIG Code of Points, one he believes he was the first to train before ultimately scrapping it from his Maccabiah Games routine.
While those can’t be overlooked, he recognizes the strength of Stanford’s roster: “[There’s] a really good set of guys on horse… Nine or 10 guys that are going to be competing for those last few lineup spots.”
On the flip side of the Stanford gymnastics coin, mechanical engineering grad student Evan Hymanson trains at the school’s affiliate club program Stanford Boys’ Gymnastics. A proud former captain at Nebraska, Hymanson contributed to the Huskers’ third- and fourth-place team finishes at nationals in 2019 and 2021, respectively. After five years in Lincoln, he transferred to Stanford, citing the academic and networking opportunities the school provides. In his words, “It puts you in the center of anything related to engineering, computer science—right in the middle of Silicon Valley.”
Although not on the team together for the Cardinal, Kushner and Hymanson share a bond after having represented Maccabi USA at the 2022 Maccabiah Games. Hymanson had come in as the team’s veteran after competing at the event in 2017 while Kushner was an incoming freshman and the youngest of the American men. Both also now frequent Stanford’s Hillel.
Medals aside, of which there were many in Israel, overcoming adversity was a common theme at the Games for both gymnasts. Hymanson left the competition with six medals but wasn’t at peak form after dislocating a finger in podium training. With the rest of his season in mind, he reduced his parallel bars difficulty by over a point—a decision that ultimately paid off as he recovered enough to compete on the elite circuit immediately following the Maccabiah. With a finger taped up more heavily than a hockey stick, he finished fourth on high bar at nationals. Kushner similarly reduced his pommel horse difficulty in Israel to stay calm on the event and was rewarded with bronze as the top American scorer.
Kushner looks back at the Games as a “perspective-altering trip,” often wearing his Star of David necklace he bought on his first night in Tel-Aviv with the team. “I wear it pretty much every day now. It reminds me of all those memories and all the amazing people,” he adds. Along the same vein, he looks up to Maccabi teammate and current Michigan captain Adam Wooten. He views Wooten as an older brother and a person he tries to emulate both in and out of the sport.
The Cardinal is set to have its first taste of NCAA competition this year at the Cal Benefit Cup on January 14 in Berkeley. Meanwhile, Hymanson has his sights on select GymACT meets in the winter to stay normalized to competitions leading to the elite season while unaffiliated with a varsity team.
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Article by Peri Goodman
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