Hollis Brookline Sports Talk

The fabled Santa Ana winds have long been blamed for many ills in southern California, but for Level 9 New Hampshire gymnast, Nicholas Merryman, the hot, dry winds only appeared to help sweep him onto the podium at the 2014 Junior Olympic National Championships and to remain on the U.S. National Team.

The weeklong event for 680 top junior U.S. gymnasts, held at the Long Beach Convention Center this past summer, kicked off with ceremonials and practices, and concluded with two days of competition meets.

Completing the preliminary competition, Merryman logged a career high all-around (AA) score of 82.15 for his “optional” routines on all six events which started on the still rings and ended on pommel horse. Since 2008, the new International Gymnastics Federation’s (FIG) scoring method for “optional” routines is a combination of an “execution” sub-score (with the traditional “10” being flawless) plus an open-ended “difficulty” sub-score (no upper limit); scores much higher than 10 are now standard.

The arena scoreboard flashed and displayed his AA score and rank: an unexpected first place position.

Adapting his gymnastics routines to compensate for his barely-recovered self, Merryman and his coach recalculated a strategy for finals – a meet judged more on form and fundamentals than “big skills.” Following a bookended day of practice, the 32 Junior Elite gymnasts reconvened for their technical sequences competition (“finals”) to round out the National event. Merryman started on vault and progressed through to still rings. To maintain his position from prelims, he would need to lock up at least three solid performances. The horizontal (high) bar, parallel bars, and the pommel horse events would supply him that opportunity (9.1, 8.9, and 9.2, respectively).

Watching the scoreboard updates as the remaining Level 9 gymnasts completed their routines, Merryman felt the anguish of a tough season replaced by exhilaration as his total combined score (prelim and final) of 133.95 shuffled slowly to the top position where it remained. He would stand on the podium to wear the All-Around gold medal, repeat his gold on pommel horse from 2013, place 5th on both horizontal bar and parallel bars, and realize a 6th place finish on still rings.

However, more than medallions and loops of ribbon, for Merryman, his re-selection to the Junior Elite U.S. National Team for Men’s Gymnastics was the ultimate accomplishment in a stormy season where the capricious winds of this demanding and unforgiving sport can also carry an athlete to a remarkable finish.

Having completed his final year as a Level 9 gymnast and moving up to Level 10 this fall, Merryman has been coached by Igor Kniazev and Cal Booker–training over 24 hours each week. Later this year he will again be heading back to the US Olympic Training Center (USOTC) in Colorado for a series of National Team training camps. An honor student at Hollis Brookline H.S., the Granite Stater has been the top New England Level 9 gymnast since 2011 and re-secured a First Team spot as a USA Gymnastics Academic All-American for 2014.