Sophomore Ben Winkel didn’t crack the lineup a single time his first year with the Gophers.
This season, he has made his presence felt in the opportunities he’s been given.
Winkel finished in second place and earned a 14.500 on the Parallel Bars in the Arnold Challenge, the team’s most recent meet. The score was the best for any Gophers gymnast on Parallel Bars this season.
“Last year was a little bit frustrating knowing that I had the potential to benefit the team,” Winkel said. “It’s nice this year to reach my potential.”
Head coach Mike Burns said the other Gophers gymnasts were so happy for him after the performance at the Arnold Challenge, they “went crazy” and crowded around him.
Winkel had a different reaction.
“[Winkel] was just like ‘I Still didn’t do a very good [peach basket], though,’” Burns said.
Winkel, an Afton, Minnesota native, said he always had a goal to compete with Minnesota gymnastics. Winkel walked on to the team last year.
“Growing up, I’ve always came to the meets,” Winkel said. “I was just always a fan of gymnastics, so it was nice to see the collegiate-level guys [growing up].”
Winkel cracked the lineup for the first time during the Windy City Invite this season. He earned a seventh-place finish and a 13.700 on the Parallel Bars.
The sophomore made the starting lineup in the dual after the Windy City. Winkel scored a 13.450 this time, but he finished in fifth as Minnesota defeated Air Force.
Winkel still does not have a scholarship. Burns was also a walk-on gymnast in college when he competed for Penn State. The team has just 6.3 full-ride scholarships to allocate to gymnasts. Burns said about 16 of the 19 gymnasts on roster receive some sort of scholarship.
“I’ve got a soft spot for guys like [Winkel],” Burns said. “[A walk-on starting] is just a feather in the cap of a kid who’s willing to put the time and effort in.”
Winkel’s specialty is the Parallel Bars. He has made the lineup in that event four times. He has also made the lineup for Still Rings, competing twice in that event.
The sophomore earned a 13.100 on the Still Rings in Minnesota’s loss to Illinois. The performance was actually a personal best for Winkel, however, he finished in 12th place out of 12 gymnasts.
Junior Ryan Bergman also specializes in Parallel Bars. Bergman said it was nice to see Winkel succeed as of late.
“I work pretty close with [Winkel] on P Bars, and we work every day,” Bergman said. “It was really cool to see him go out there and do what we all knew he could do.”
Winkel balances his collegiate sport with his electrical engineering major. The sophomore said he chose his major because of his passion for renewable energy.
“I think solar energy is going to be big in the future,” Winkel said. “I kind of want to get into that field.”
Winkel competed in six duals this season and now he will look to compete in two straight meets when Minnesota hosts No. 8 Iowa and No. 15 Arizona State. He said his main goal for this year is to be a consistent member in Gophers meets.
“Keep being a solid competitor,” Winkel said. “Compete in Big Ten [championships] and NCAA [championships].”