The Daily Californian Online

In The Moment

By Camellia Senemar
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Category: Sports > Winter > Gymnastics (Men's)

There won't be a Cal men's gymnastics team after this season, even though Donothan Bailey is just a sophomore. That's not the first time he's heard this news.

"The school gets rid of a sport that does as well as we do, for money," Bailey says. "This sport and others mean so much to students and it's ridiculous to me that they would get rid of these opportunities."

Despite the fact that Cal eliminated a championship-rich program, Bailey remains confident. The ups and downs in his life have come to be as significant to who he is as high start values and point deductions to his sport.

He has always competed in six events for the all-around title, his favorite being pommel horse. Doesn't he get tired?

"Yeah, but I could never imagine myself not doing all six events," he says. "Even if I was the best at only three, I wouldn't sacrifice any of them.

"Doing all-around in gymnastics is everything to me."

This self-assured attitude he exudes has translated into breakout individual performances this season.

It surprised many when he managed to win the all-around title against top-ranked Oklahoma back in February despite Cal's overall loss. At the Stanford Open later that month, the Bears placed third out of three teams, but Bailey's performances stunned once again as he captured the all-around.

He was awarded the MPSF Gymnast of the Week and the California Muscle Milk Athlete of the Week back-to-back, both firsts in his young career.

The Lake Forest, Calif., native is steadily improving and it's unfortunate - for the program and its supporters - that Cal won't be able to propel him to his full potential.

The Bears have been told three times that there is still a chance for the program to stay alive - but Bailey is not holding his breath.

There was a time he was.

As a child, he gasped for air when he would jump on furniture and vault over kitchen counters.

Bailey's mother, Ellen Cole, signed him up for basketball, football, soccer and gymnastics when he was around seven. But as Bailey grew older, his passion for gymnastics was obvious, and that was the sport that stuck.

Cole, a single mother, raised his son while working two jobs. His parents separated when Bailey was young and although he still sees his father from time to time, she is the main influence in his life.

"She's basically the reason why I'm at all successful," Bailey said.

In spite of Cole's adversity, her unwavering spirit not only kept a roof over the heads of Bailey, his brother and two sisters, but also shaped his undaunting and fearless mindset.

The self-proclaimed mama's boy does have one admission.

"I definitely almost cried when I left home," Bailey says. "My mom has been to all my competitions so far this season."

Now it seems more certain he will be leaving his current Cal teammates as well.

With the final season of Cal men's gymnastics wrapping up, the sophomore is making sure he keeps his options open, in case he decides not to stay in Berkeley.

"Something inside me kind of tells me that NCAA gymnastics is a good thing for me to stick with," he says. "I don't think I'm ready to give it up for two years."

There are three schools he is considering transferring to: Stanford, Oklahoma and Michigan.

However, his goals extends beyond the college campus.

"For starters, I'd love to make national team," Bailey says. "I feel like I'm very capable of doing that.

"And obviously Olympics, I would like to say is in my future."

For now, he is concentrated on his second - and final - season with the Bears.

Bailey appears to be getting the attention he deserves on the floor, but it wasn't without some hardship and guidance.

Last August at the VISA Championships, one of the two big competitions to grab a spot on the national team (the other is the Winter Cup Challenge), Bailey had a weak showing and it turned into an "absolute disaster."

It was that failure which pushed him to work harder this year and reach the level he is at right now.

He also attributes much of his success to first-year Cal coach Tim McNeill, who graduated from Cal in 2008 as a five-time NCAA champion. McNeill took the helm when Barry Weiner retired after a 19-year tenure.

"Tim is one of the greatest things that has ever happened in my career," Bailey says. "He was and still is a great gymnast. I don't want to be a bad gymnast in front of one of the greatest."

Although Bailey hasn't experienced any sidelining injuries this season like some of his teammates, he still has to fight through pain every time he steps on the floor.

"When you're doing a routine there's so much adrenaline," Bailey says. "It's kind of like jumping out of a plane, and then especially when you hit your routine, you get so pumped up."

For the record, Bailey has never jumped out of a plane. Yet, after he competes for the last time in blue and gold with his 18 teammates, Bailey will be letting go, checking out the views and finally landing back on his feet. The twists and turns in the air do not seem to cloud his vision at the moment.

"This is my team," Bailey says. "Cal gymnastics is my life. Regardless of where I end up next year, that changes absolutely nothing about how I feel now."

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