Oct. 29, 2002

The Ohio State men’s gymnastics team set the stage to defend its 2001 NCAA Championship by returning to the NCAA finals in Oklahoma last April. The Buckeyes fluctuated from first, second and fourth throughout the first five rotations and ranked second going into the sixth and final event.

As Raj Bhavsar, the Ohio State 2002 Male Athlete of the Year, landed his dismount from rings, he knew two things.

“I finished the last ring dismount and I knew it was going to be almost impossible to win as a team, but I knew I had won the individual championship,” Bhavsar said. “It was a mixed feeling. From one standpoint you’re happy and from the other, it is just a huge disappointment.”

The team finished second behind Oklahoma by less than a point, while Bhavsar won the individual national all-around championship. Most would be ecstatic about such an individual achievement, but for Bhavsar, nothing compared to the experience of accomplishing the ultimate team goal.

“Imagine yourself with 15 other strangers and knowing them only for a year and you go out and compete for one common goal,” Bhavsar explained about winning the NCAA team title in 2001. “Everybody is on the same page; everybody has the same heart and everybody has the same desire.”

There is still a chance to recreate that feeling for Bhavsar. With one year of eligibility left, he has the opportunity to lead the Buckeyes to another national championship. This task will not be easy, especially considering he had completed the last leg of the 2002 season with what was thought to be a strained shoulder. Although he risked further injury, he still competed in the 2002 national championships. An MRI after the season revealed a tear in the labrum, which required orthopedic surgery.

“I knew when I had the injury it was going to be a big setback and was going to throw me off,” Bhavsar said about his surgery in May. “How I’m going to deal with it is the key.”

With rehabilitation going well, Bhavsar, who compartmentalizes his goals and focuses on the closest task, is able to concentrate on the upcoming season. For now, the next task is leading the Buckeyes to a third-consecutive Big Ten championship, which never has been accomplished by the program, and then onto a second national championship in three years.

“My first goal is for the team to be Big Ten champs,” Bhavsar, the 2002 Big Ten Gymnast of the Year and all-around champion, said. “Then to go on and win a national championship as team. That is the No. 1 goal for me. If it came down to it, I would sacrifice the individual for the team.”

Ohio State acquired this talented student-athlete from Houston, Texas, in 1999. Prior to his Ohio State career, Bhavsar clamed the national title twice in the 16-18 age group and once in the 14-15 age group. Continuing his career as a Buckeye was an obvious choice for him.

“I knew this school produced,” Bhavsar said. “I knew they had an incredible athletic program, took great care of their athletes and had a history of training great gymnasts.”

Bhavsar is extremely happy with his decision to attended Ohio State. The coaching staff, composed of head coach Miles Avery and assistant coaches Arnold Kvetenadze and Doug Stibel, provides everything he expected out of a top-notch program.

“The coaching staff is impeccable,” Bhavsar said. “That’s why we have such great gymnastics here at Ohio State. Miles is an incredible technical coach and that is hard to come by in this sport. If he sees you have the heart and desire to do something, he wants to take you all the way. He will do anything to help you get there.”

Throughout his training at Ohio State, Bhavsar has had the opportunity to work with the Buckeye greats Blaine Wilson and Jamie Natalie. Both were two-time OSU Male Athletes of the Year, Wilson in 1994 and 1996 and Natalie in 2000 and 2001 and both were NCAA all-around champions. Bhavsar winning the award in 2002 allowed the men’s gymnastics team to claim the honor for the last three years and six times since 1990. When asked about his most recent honor Bhavsar referred to the incredible lineage of gymnasts that he will surely be added to when his days in the Scarlet and Gray expire.

“It’s a huge honor,” Bhavsar said. “I know gymnasts in the past have won it. Natalie won it and he had always been a step ahead of me, I knew those were good footsteps to be in.”

Now it is time for Bhavsar to set the footsteps. As a talented team of gymnasts form behind him, they will surely look to Bhavsar for leadership.

“He is the best gymnasts in the country, one of the best in the world,” Avery said. “That alone makes him a leader on this team. I expect his role to be one of the best gymnasts in every event. His greatest asset is that he is such a great competitor.”

After his days as a Buckeye, this focused student-athlete has a bright future on the national and world level. In the 2001 World Championships, the U.S. took the silver medal for the first time in 22 years. Bhavsar competed in the all-around in the preliminaries and on pommel horse, rings and parallel bars in the team finals. At the 2003 World Championships, in Anaheim, Calif., he looks for the U.S. team to take gold on its home turf.

“I want to be a part of the 2003 national team because I think the USA has a great chance of taking home the gold,” Bhavsar said. “Also, being a part of that team will set me up for the 2004 Olympics.”

Since Bhavsar finished 14th in the 2000 Olympic trials, he has greatly improved his routine in difficulty and precision. At the 2001 World Championships, he performed a new element on rings that is now named after him in the Code of Points; a double-twisting double-layout dismount, which was rated a Super-E by the judges. As an all-around gymnast, he continues to work on every event, constantly striving to be the best. His work ethic combined whit his attitude ensures he will be ready when his time comes.

“I will have to do well in every event leading up to the Olympics,” Bhavasar said. “Then I will be ready for the Olympic trials. In order to make the Olympic team, I will have to be at my best. For now, that is my ultimate goal.”