Akers heads to national squad
By JEFF JENKINS
Dylan Akers was viewed as a boy competing against grown men at USA Gymnastics' Visa Championships held recently in Hartford, Conn.
But the Kingwood High senior and Cypress Academy gymnast wasn't intimidated going up against an elite field of former Olympians and top-ranked collegiate gymnasts, tying for 15th place in the senior men's division.
It was my third Visa Championships, so I wasn't scared," said Akers, who competes for Cypress Academy of Gymnastics. Instead of thinking that the other guys were better or stronger than me, I tried to stay positive. I told myself that I was going to hit all 12 routines both days and show them I'm a top-level gymnast, too."
Aside from a minor stumble on the vault during the preliminaries, Akers turned in one of the most consistent performances of his gymnastics career. In addition to his all-around finish, Akers was fifth in the pommel horse.
Finishing in the top 15 and earning a medal (in the vault) probably surpassed my expectations," Akers said.
Tom Meadows, director for Cypress Academy's competitive program, was thrilled with the outcome.
Dylan was one short vault from having a perfect meet," Meadows said. He was great in the pommel horse. He had one of his best parallel bars routines ever. He was running on adrenaline all week."
Akers' effort was rewarded with a spot on the U.S. men's team that will compete at the Pan American Gymnastics Championships, which run Monday through Saturday in Guadalajara, Mexico. At 18, Akers is among the youngest athletes in the field and one of only two juniors on the U.S. squad.
I didn't believe I had a shot at the Pan American team, first because I'm still in high school and second because I'm not even on the U.S. Senior National Team," Akers said. But my two strongest events are the pommel horse and vault, which are areas where the U.S. is weak. I guess the top gymnastics people thought I could help the team."
Akers is ecstatic about the opportunity to represent his country and gain valuable international experience.
I consider myself an all-round gymnast, but I'll do whatever events the coaches ask me to do," Akers said. This is a team event. It's not about me. I want to see the U.S. win gold."
The Pan American Gymnastics Championships is a qualifier for the 2011 Pan American Games next October, also in Guadalajara.
By making the Pan American team, Akers suddenly finds himself as a darkhorse contender for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England.
I don't know how realistic that is. Two years is a long way off," Akers said. I'd be thrilled just to get invited to the U.S. Olympic Trials and try to make the Olympics in 2016."
One of the reasons for Akers' cool demeanor is the atmosphere at Cypress Academy, where he's trained the past five years. Akers, who became interested in gymnastics at age 5, has worked side by side with former Olympians like Raj Bhavsar and Jonathan Horton, the two-time U.S. champion.
Raj was one of my role models early in my career," Akers said. I can't tell you how awesome it is training with Jon ever day. He's a great guy. He gives me a hard time in training. If I mess up, he lets me know it, but he motivates me. Eventually, I want to get where he is."
After his trip to Akers, Akers said the next item on his to-do list is selecting a college. He's been recruited by top gymnastics programs such as Oklahoma and Michigan.
I believe signing day is early November, so I have a big decision to make," Akers said.
But Akers rarely makes a wrong move these days, as evidenced by his clean performance in Hartford a few weeks ago.
It's been an unbelievable month," Akers said.
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