Hammel lends helping hand

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

In a rough, injury-filled buildup to the 2007 gymnastic season, the Red Rocks finally got a bit of good news on Friday.

The NCAA has granted the U’s gymnastic program the opportunity to bring on former assistant coach Aki Hammel to perform spotting duty for U gymnasts this season.

The need for a spotter developed a month ago when head coach Greg Marsden hyper-extended his knee on a mat while spotting.

This injury only compounded the problems the gymnastics team already faced after assistant coach Jeff Graba ruptured a bicep tendon performing the same spotting duty.

Hammel’s familiarity with the Utes made him an easy choice to step in and lend a hand with spotting. Hammel spent 12 seasons with the Red Rocks and then parted ways with them to build his own business. Although that business will limit the amount of time Hammel can be with the team, his job isn’t the only thing restricting how much assistance Hammel can give the gymnasts.

Under the guidelines of the NCAA petition, Hammel will only be available to spot at practices and meets–both home and away. Hammel is not allowed to critique, comment, coach or lend any other assistance to the Red Rocks.

With such a limited role on the gymnastics team, it might seem difficult to comprehend how important his presence will be for the team–but it is and will be.

Not only does Hammel’s presence allow Marsden to rely less on his hampered knee to provide for the safety of his team, but it also gives the gymnasts peace of mind to know that Hammel will be available to handle any spot the team requires.

It’s not that Marsden can’t handle most spots that are absolutely necessary, but if given the opportunity, having someone fully capable of spotting was an obvious choice.

The Red Rocks are now entering their final weeks of training before the start of the season. With only a month and change left until the opening meet against UCLA, each practice becomes increasingly important for the gymnasts to perfect their skills.

With large chunks of practice time taken away because of Finals Week and Christmas vacation, the addition of Hammel will likely have a profound effect on how productive the precious few practices the Red Rocks have left will be before the Bruins come to town.