June 16, 2008
BERKELEY - CalBears.com spoke to five-time NCAA men's gymnastics champion and four-year Cal letterwinner Tim McNeill about his dreams of reaching the 2008 Summer Olympics. He earned a spot on the U.S. Senior Team after a strong performance at the U.S. Championships in May and will next compete at the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials in Philadelphia July 19-22. At nationals, McNeill took silver on pommel horse, an event on which he has won three NCAA individual titles. The Falls Church, Va., native finished 10th in the all-around.
CalBears.com: What sacrifices have you made in trying to make to reach the Olympics?
McNeill: "I've made a lot. It's training through injuries, through really difficult times, after I've been up all night studying for tests or writing papers. This school and my goals have completely changed my life. Everything I do in my life has to revolve around the Olympics and gymnastics."
CalBears.com: How challenging has it been to be in school while competing at Cal and training for the Olympics, all at the same time?
McNeill: "School has been a distraction. I was home schooled before Cal and so gymnastics had always been my first focus on my mind. Having to manage school, especially the hard classes, here at Berkeley had made it very challenging but I've kept up with both. I'm doing well in school and I'm doing well in gym, so I'm proud of myself for being able to do that so far."
CalBears.com: When did you first dream of competing in the Olympics?
McNeill: "I think every kid, when they start gymnastics, dreams of going to the Olympics. But after awhile, people realize how hard it is to make it because only six gymnasts get to go every four years. I kind of lost sight of it, and it wasn't until I was being recruiting by colleges and I made the junior national team for the first time that I thought that it was a possibility."
CalBears.com: How has Cal helped you in your quest to become an Olympian?
CalBears.com: Do you have someone you look up to in gymnastics?
McNeill: "Yes, Justin Spring is someone I trained with until he went to college. I would say he's pretty much a lock on the Olympic team. I've really looked up to him, and he's always been a great person to train with because it pushes you. He would learn a skill in minutes where it would take weeks or months for other people to learn it."
CalBears.com: Who has been one of the biggest influences on you and your training?
McNeill: "There have been a lot of people but (Cal head coach) Barry Weiner especially. He really believed in me since I first started talking to him. In one of the first conversations I had with him, he mentioned that I should have the Olympics as one of my goals. It meant a lot to me to know that he thought I had that potential. I think my biggest influences are my teammates here at Cal. They constantly inspire me with their work ethic and their love for the sport, especially Colin Christ. He's been a big influence for me because he's always the first one in the gym, rushing his stretches so he can get on the equipment and is the last to leave the gym."
CalBears.com: How did you first become interested in gymnastics?
McNeill: "I started with mom and kid classes when I was about three. I barely remember this, but the teacher said I was really good at it and that I should try gymnastics lessons. When I was four, my mom put me in some classes, and I loved it and went from there."