Sophomore walk-on competitor holds national championship on rings
Michelle Nehrenz, The Oklahoma Daily
By all means, Michael Squires should not be standing where he is today: on top of a podium.
The walk-on gymnast from Edmond, Okla., made OU’s roster a little more than a year ago. Today, he holds the national title on rings.
“It’s really a pretty amazing story to have somebody that comes in as a walk-on hoping to make the team in any position, and two years later be a national champion,” coach Mark Williams said. “I don’t know that it’s ever happened in gymnastics.”
Squires' journey from walk-on to national champion wasn’t easy. Making the roster is one thing, but being the best in the country is another. Williams remembers his wife asking about Squires one day, and he told her Squires probably wouldn’t even make the team, Williams said. Squires eventually proved his coach wrong and competed in a few meets toward the end of the season.
Once summer rolled around, he took it one step farther and commuted from Edmond to Norman just to get more time in the gym, Squires said.
“Last summer I came in and just dedicated myself to doing conditioning all the time,” Squires said. “I just wanted to be a lot stronger and get my start level higher.”
Williams attributes Squires’ progression to a strong work ethic inside the gym. Without it, he wouldn’t be in this position, Williams said.
“It’s very difficult to get good on rings in a short period of time,” Williams said. “It’s so strength related, and it’s not very easy to go from a set like he had last year to what he did this year, in terms of difficulty."
“It’s a testament to his work ethic and willing to be coached. You know, having a dream and setting out to make it a reality,” Williams said.
Things really started to come together for Squires at the Sooners’ first home meet this season against Minnesota. He scored a career high 16.000.
“That was really exciting,” Squires said. “It was the best set throughout the year I had done. So it was just me breaking the barrier and proving to myself that I can do this routine really well.”
That confidence proved to be monumental as the season progressed. He may not have reached the 16.0 mark again, but knowing what a great routine felt like left him feeling good when he stuck his dismount in event finals, Squires said.
“I knew it was an awesome set,” Squires said. “I knew coming off, after I stuck the set, that it was going to be really hard to beat me. I definitely wasn’t cocky about it. If someone else had a great set, then more power to them. But I knew that I did the best I could have done, so I was just really happy about that.”
All in all, though, Squires said it still hasn’t hit him yet — that the season’s done; it’s over; he won.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Squires said. “I still feel like I’m working harder to upgrade my set now. I won, but I’m just looking forward to next year to come back and win it again.”
For now, Squires will keep working to improve and build upon his already strong season, he said. He hopes to win another national title when he competes at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships (formerly the Visa Championships) in August.
Despite his success, the titles don’t mean nearly as much as the journey, Squires said. Proving people wrong might be a better reward.
“Telling someone they can’t do something and watching them come back and prove you wrong is definitely the best feeling this year,” Squires said. “I’d probably say it’s better than winning.”