By David Willis
---- — It didn’t matter that the meet was still more than 30 minutes from starting, and he was simply going through his warm-up routine for a few cameras. Brian Manning was going to nail his dismount following a near miss.
With players and coaches surrounding the rings, Manning launched himself into the air and suck the landing after completing a “full twist, double back flip.”
The meet may not have started, but everyone in attendance went wild.
“I love the feeling when you stick a landing,” said Manning. “You have that adrenaline pumping, and then it dissipates and you have that amazing feeling of doing well. I feel like I can accomplish something I have never done before. I just love getting up into the air and just twisting. I love performing for a crowd.”
Manning has wowed more than a few observers during his brilliant career at Andover High, winning All-Scholastic Gymnast of the Year last winter, along with his tremendous accomplishments away from school in the Junior Olympics, for which he trains an average of six hours a day, six days a week.
Now in the midst of the college decision process — being recruited by Penn State, the No. 1 ranked team in the country, and No. 5-ranked Ohio State — Manning is taking joy in finishing his Golden Warriors career with a bang,
“You wake up every morning in pain, but you push through it because you love the sport,” said Manning. You want to have the feeling of trying something new and accomplishing it. I can’t wait to see what I can do in my future.”
Manning actually found the sport by accident, thanks to being a hyperactive child.
“I was always trying to do handstands and was a real daredevil around the house,” he said. “So my mom and dad sent me to the YMCA. But after a few months they said, ‘He really doesn’t belong here. The moves he is doing are too dangerous. He should really be doing gymnastics.’
“I didn’t win too much until I reached about Level 5. Then there was one meet I took first, and that’s when I really started to realize I could take the sport somewhere.”
But just two seasons ago, Manning feared his career could be over.
“During my sophomore year I was hurt really badly and missed the season,” said Manning. “It was the first floor routine of the first meet of the year. I landed short and shattered my tibia right above the ankle. I thought I was done.
“But once I was cleared I started to get back into the gym and it started to come back. It was like starting all over again and I loved it. It was like learning the skills for the first time and it ignited a new fire and inspiration.”
Manning was certainly back in fine form last winter. In addition to All-Scholastic MVP honors, he finished second in the all-around at States, grabbing championships in the parallel bars, and pommel horse.
He then turned to his club team, training out of Interstate Gymnastics in Methuen, advancing all the way to the Junior Olympic Championship in Cincinnati.
“That was huge,” he said. “Making it there was definitely one of my greatest achievements.”
All of those accomplishments have led major college programs to take great interest, with Ohio State and Penn State the two finalists.
“Penn State called me recently and said they would love to have me on their team,” he said. “I am leaning towards Ohio State because I’ve visited there and really liked it. But I am going to visit Penn State first before I make any decisions. It makes me feel like all of my hard work is paying off.
“I am also waiting to see if I am accepted to the Naval Academy. I have always wanted to serve my country, and if I am accepted I would probably go there. But that is very tough.”
Wherever he decides to compete, he expects to make his biggest impact in his event of choice, the rings.
“I just love the rings,” he said. “I like the idea you can just keep getting stronger and achieve things that other people can’t do. I love the iron cross (arms extended horizontally). It’s kind of funny because everyone thinks that’s one of the hardest skills, but it’s really one of the easiest. But people love it.”
As Manning continues to dominate at the high school level, winning five events and the all-around in a dual meet on Monday, he has certainly left an impression on those around the program.
“He is No. 1 in the state and maybe the best gymnast ever to come out of Andover,” said Golden Warriors coach Steve Sirois. “And that goes back to the 1940s. He works out at his private gym in the afternoon and with us at night. He works out on the weekends. He can’t get enough.”
With the MIAA dropping boys gymnastics as an official varsity sport following this season (See story, Page 1), forcing it to become club, the Golden Warriors would like to make a statement in 2013.
“I think we could accomplish anything including winning states,” said senior Austin Teal. “This is a really good team.”
They also hope the MIAA could change their minds.
“I was very disappointed when I heard about it,” said junior co-captain Brian McDonough. “It will continue in some form, but I hope they change their minds. But this is a very focused team so we feel like it will be a good year.”