Oklahoma gymnast Jonathan Horton has been named the winner of the 2008 Nissen-Emery Award. The honor was presented at an awards dinner Wednesday night on the eve of the 2008 NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Championships on the campus of Stanford University. The Nissen-Emery Award is given annually to the nation’s most outstanding senior collegiate gymnast.
Horton is the sixth Sooner to garner collegiate gymnastics’ top honor. OU’s six honorees lead the nation, with Horton’s award breaking a tie between Oklahoma and Penn State for the top spot. Previous Nissen winners from OU include Daniel Furney (2003), Todd Bishop (1999), Dan Fink (1998), Jarrod Hanks (1991) and Bart Conner (1981).
“Winning the Nissen-Emery Award is a great honor,” Horton said. “My teammates and coaches have really pushed me to be my best and I wouldn’t be where I am without their help.”
A three-time team captain during his Sooner career, Horton will likely go down as the most decorated gymnast in OU program history. The 2006 NCAA all-around champion, Horton already owns Oklahoma records for career All-America honors (15) and career NCAA individual titles (five). Both marks were previously held by two-time Olympic gold-medalist Bart Conner.
In his four years in Norman, Horton helped lead the Sooners to back-to-back national championships in 2005 and 2006, as well as a second-place finish last season.
The Houston, Texas, native is also the three-time defending Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Gymnast of the Year and owns 10 career individual conference crowns, including all-around wins in 2005, 2007 and 2008.
A member of the past two U.S. World Championships Teams, Horton’s performance at the 2007 Worlds in Stuttgart, Germany, helped the American squad to a fourth-place team finish and secured a berth in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Horton finished fourth in the all-around standings, just 0.2 points shy of earning a bronze medal. He became just the fourth American men’s gymnast to record a top-four all-around finish at the World Championships and the first since 2004 Olympic gold-medalist Paul Hamm took the title in 2003. Only Hamm and Kurt Thomas (2nd, 1979) have finished higher.
In claiming the award, Horton beat out six other finalists including Stanford’s David Sender, Cal’s Tim McNeill, Illinois’ Wes Haagensen, Ohio State’s D.J. Bucher, Penn State’s Derek Helsby, and Luke Vexler of Temple.
“Receiving this honor, especially when there were so many other great gymnasts nominated is a great feeling,” Horton said. “The ultimate goal, though, is for our team to win a national championship.”
Horton and the second-ranked Sooners begin NCAA Championship competition Thursday in the first of two qualifying sessions. The top three teams from each qualifying session will advance to Friday’s Team Finals. Joining OU in the first qualifying session are No. 3 Penn State, No. 6 Michigan, No. 7 Ohio State, No. 10 Nebraska and No. 13 William & Mary. Oklahoma will be looking to win the program’s eighth national title and fifth in the last seven years.