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OU gymnastics: Elite athletes thrive under coach Mark Williams

Sooner coach stresses hard work, which has produced several standouts, including a big part of this year's U.S. Olympic team.
BY RJ YOUNG, Staff Writer, Published: July 7, 2012

NORMAN — Oklahoma men's gymnastics coach Mark Williams' son Cooper has taken over his father's office. Cooper's toys and two puppies are laid about the ground while he gives a play-by-play of what he's building beside his father's large wooden desk in the Sam Viersen Gymnastics Center on the OU campus.

Mark tells his son to go play in the team room, so he can talk about how OU gymnastics became one of the winningest programs of the last decade. But Cooper, even at 5 years old, knows this isn't an order — it's the beginning of a negotiation.

“I'll be quiet,” Cooper said.

“I'm not sure you're capable of being quiet,” Mark said.

The exchange ends with Cooper cleverly entices his father to leave his office for the team room. He probably gets his penchant for persuasion from Mark.

After all, it is Mark Williams who persuaded 2012 Olympians Chris Brooks, Jake Dalton, Jonathan Horton, Steve Legendre and Alex Naddour to compete collegiately at Oklahoma. OU's Fab Five were all selected to the eight-man U.S. Olympic men's gymnastics squad, with two earning spots in the lineup and three traveling as alternates.

Williams also persuaded a group of athletes to believe in him and his philosophy of outworking other teams from the start of his head coaching career. Since 2001, OU has finished in third place or better in the NCAA team championship every season and won five national titles.

His 2003 team finished the season 26-0, and his 2006 team finished 31-0. Each won a national title.

“When you look at college gymnastics, Oklahoma is the place to be,” Dalton said.

During the U.S. Trials last month in San Jose, Calif., Williams coached his gymnasts on the floor, calming everyone's nerves but his own.

“I was living and dying each time one of my guys got up,” he said.

He's normally an even-keel man and doesn't let the highs and lows of watching his athletes compete against the best in the world affect him, but when he arrived home he felt mentally and physically exhausted. But that's also how he's continued to win — exhaustion.

“Kids that are lazy generally don't want to work with me because they know it's not gonna be fun,” he said. “The word's out: You don't come here if you're really talented and you want to be really lazy.”

Men who have attended OU and compete for him understand this. To Williams, it's the only way to compete for championships.

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