Gymnastics: Lemont’s Baker shoots for national team
By Logan Malloy For Sun-Times Media June 6, 2012 11:40PM
Lemont resident Bobby Baker performs on the high bar. | Photo courtesy of Champion Image.
Updated: July 8, 2012 6:18PM
You can bet your last dollar there won’t be a 16-year-old on the U.S. Men’s Gymnastics team at the London Olympics come July.
But don’t bet against one Lemont 16-year-old taking a huge step toward the 2016 Games when he competes this week on the same floor as the 2012 Olympians.
Bobby Baker, a Lemont High School junior-to-be, took third in the all-around at the U.S. Men’s Junior Olympic National Championships on May 13 in Cincinnati. He advanced to the Visa National Championships, which run Thursday through Sunday in St. Louis, and will be one of 42 juniors competing beside the country’s elite gymnasts.
“If Bobby finishes in the top seven of his division at the Visa Championships, he’ll become a part of the Junior National team,” said Tim O’Connell, Baker’s coach at Aerial Gymnastics. “Then the road will just be starting for him; training in Colorado Springs with the national team and international competitions.”
Baker’s finish at the Junior Olympics doesn’t indicate a top-seven in St. Louis would be an upset. Neither does the assessment of O’Connell, who coached seven national team members during collegiate stints at the University of Michigan and Illinois-Chicago.
“Bobby is in the stack,” O’Connell said. “He’s doing a skill in the parallel bars that hasn’t been done yet, and his triple backflip on the still rings is one of the most difficult dismounts in the history of the sport.
“Bobby is on the unique side because of the talent he has. Some kids work extremely hard, and some kids have natural talent. Bobby has both.”
While an eventual Olympic berth is enticing to Baker, it’s not the be-all and end-all.
“Making the Olympic team comes with a lot of responsibility,” Baker said. “It’s nice, but not an absolute goal for me. I wouldn’t be angry if I didn’t make the team when I’m eligible. I’m aiming to get a scholarship and compete with a good college team.”
With his eyes on that prize, Baker practices nearly 30 hours per week at Aerial, in Downers Grove. Such focus has developed some helpful blind spots.
“When I’m at a meet, I don’t look at the scores because it gets into my head,” Baker said. “Only until after the meet is over will I go and ask my coach or my dad how I did. It’s a big mental game.”
This week, then, would bring the biggest games he’s played — so far. And — so far — he seems unfazed.
“I’m hoping to go in and hit all six events, make it to the finals and make the national team,” Baker said. “I’ll try to focus on keeping my cool.”