Breaking News Bar
updated: 3/21/2013 5:26 AM

Buffalo Grove gymnast a lord of the rings for Illini, U.S.

hello
Success - Article sent! close
  • Buffalo Grove native Mike Wilner competes on the still rings for the University of Illinois men's gymnastics team. He's ranked No. 1 in the event nationally and has his sights set on a national title.

      Buffalo Grove native Mike Wilner competes on the still rings for the University of Illinois men's gymnastics team. He's ranked No. 1 in the event nationally and has his sights set on a national title.
    courtesy of the University of Illinois

  • Buffalo Grove native Mike Wilner competes on the still rings for the University of Illinois men's gymnastics team. He's ranked No. 1 in the event nationally and will travel to Israel this summer to compete in the 19th Maccabiah Games.

      Buffalo Grove native Mike Wilner competes on the still rings for the University of Illinois men's gymnastics team. He's ranked No. 1 in the event nationally and will travel to Israel this summer to compete in the 19th Maccabiah Games.
    courtesy of the University of Illinois

  • Buffalo Grove native and University of Illinois gymnast Mike Wilner is ranked No. 1 nationally on the rings.

      Buffalo Grove native and University of Illinois gymnast Mike Wilner is ranked No. 1 nationally on the rings.
    courtesy of the University of Illinois

  • Buffalo Grove native Mike Wilner, competing here on the high bar for Stevenson High School, is on the University of Illinois men's gymnastics team and ranked No. 1 nationally on rings. He'll travel to Israel this summer to compete in the 19th Maccabiah Games.

      Buffalo Grove native Mike Wilner, competing here on the high bar for Stevenson High School, is on the University of Illinois men's gymnastics team and ranked No. 1 nationally on rings. He'll travel to Israel this summer to compete in the 19th Maccabiah Games.
    courtesy of the University of Illinois

  • Video: On rings at Junior Olympics

  • Video: Mike competes on still rings

  • Video: Record-breaking performance

 

A former Olympian paid Mike Wilner quite the compliment as he competed on rings last year at the Big Ten Conference championships in Iowa City.

"That was textbook," Big Ten Network analyst John Roethlisberger said. "That looked like the ironing board in my room."

Roethlisberger was referring to the Buffalo Grove native's perfectly still Maltese cross, a demanding skill in which a gymnast holds his body parallel to the ground at ring height with his arms extended laterally.

The University of Illinois sophomore has only gotten better, this month maintaining the country's No. 1 ranking on rings with a three-score average of 15.413. He also holds the nation's second-highest rings score of 15.9, a record for the sixth-ranked Fighting Illini.

"It's one of the few events where the performance relates directly to the work you put in," Wilner said. "It's very much a strength-oriented event and I work really hard at it.

"It also helps that my grandpa was a bodybuilder," he added.

For Wilner, who didn't join a competitive team until seventh grade at an age considered ancient by gymnastics standards, showcasing his strength more than nine feet in the air is where he shines.

"The rings is brute strength," said Illinois men's gymnastics head coach Justin Spring, who was a member of the bronze medal-winning U.S. team at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. "Mike came in incredibly strong but struggled with his swinging. He worked at it, and now he's one of the strongest, best swinging guys around.

"I could see him being a national champion, even this year," Spring said.

Though the 2011 Stevenson High School graduate so far has competed just in rings for Illinois -- the NCAA's reigning national champs -- he'll showcase his skills on multiple events this summer in Israel.

Last month, Wilner was among six men selected to compete for the U.S. on the Open Gymnastics team in the 19th Maccabiah Games, held every four years to build Jewish pride through sports. Athletes will spend nearly three weeks in Israel, touring the country and competing against gymnasts from across the globe.

"One of my main goals in life was to make a national team, and being Jewish, it's exciting to be connected to my homeland," Wilner said.

Success at such an elite level comes at a high price. He and his teammates practice three hours a day, six days a week. That's in addition to strength workouts and time with the trainer to prevent and rehab injuries. Weekends usually mean traveling to places such as Berkeley, Calif., or State College, Pa., for meets.

Then there's school, which would be a challenge even by itself. Wilner estimates he averages about five hours of studying each night as a computer engineering major in one of the nation's top-ranked programs.

"The nice thing is that we get free tutoring, so I definitely take advantage of that," he said. "Everything can get a little overwhelming, but everybody's very accommodating."

Like most guys his age, Wilner grew up playing video games. But he also enjoyed dismantling and reassembling them, and he said that curiosity has stayed with him through college.

During his rare spare time, he enjoys writing computer programs, including one he's put to good use. DScore assists coaches, athletes and enthusiasts in the creation of men's gymnastics routines, calculating start values and supporting live updates to the ever-changing point system.

He also wrote a program that reflects his love of baseball. LineItUp streamlines the process of assigning a batting order and fielding positions by checking for errors in lineups and formatting printouts for games.

Susan Wilner said that despite everything on her son's plate, she doesn't worry knowing his team and coaches are a second family. Plus, she and her husband, Corey Wilner, are able to travel to most of his meets.

"He's one of those hyper-focused kids," his mother said. "I remember his senior year at Stevenson, catching a late flight home after nationals so that he could take two AP tests the next day. He's very capable and thrives when he's busy."

Wilner, who helped lead Stevenson to a state title and was the 2011 Junior Olympics champion in rings, hopes to be an NCAA champion before graduating from Illinois. He'd also love to compete in more than just his specialty.

"I'm just working on continuously improving," Wilner said. "The team's packed with talent, so we'll see."


• Kimberly Pohl wrote today's column. She and Elena Ferrarin are always looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to standouts@dailyherald.com or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608-2733.

Share

Interested in reusing this article?

Custom reprints are a powerful and strategic way to share your article with customers, employees and prospects.

The YGS Group provides digital and printed reprint services for Daily Herald. Complete the form to the right and a reprint consultant will contact you to discuss how you can reuse this article.

Need more information about reprints? Visit our Reprints Section for more details.

Contact information ( * required )

Name * Company Telephone * E-mail *

Message (optional)

Success - Reprint request sent Click to close
Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.
    help here