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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

Williams started his career at Oklahoma in 1988. Four years passed before he received his first taste of coaching elite gymnasts during the summer of 1992. OU gymnasts who wanted to make the U.S. team then stayed in Norman and were put through an intensive training system Williams came up with over the course of 14 years of coaching.

“So I actually got my first chance of working with guys kind of on my own program for the summer, which was really fun for me,” Williams said.

He coached Sooners in the 1994 and 1995 World Championships and was asked to be an assistant coach for Team USA's 1996 Olympic team. When Greg Buwick resigned in 1999, Williams was asked to lead Oklahoma men's gymnastics into the new millennium.

“I never ever thought I'd make it to that point,” he said. “I was coaching preschool kids in 1978 at a YMCA in Lincoln, Neb.”

His first order of business was to change the nature of the program. He instituted two-a-day practices during the academic year and made his team's strength training harder and conditioning last longer.

“We're in here at 6:15, 6:30 a lot of mornings,” Legendre said.

Williams' goal was to place a strong, disciplined team on the mat. He wanted to coach a team that was determined to outwork its competition.

During his first year in 2000, OU finished fourth in the NCAA team finals.

“They got pretty excited about being at NCAAs, let alone the team finals,” he said. “The year before they weren't even there.”

Paul Ziert, who coached the Sooners in the 1970s and early '80s marvels at what Williams has accomplished at OU, instilling camaraderie in his athletes long after they've left Norman.

“There's still that Oklahoma pride, that feeling of cohesiveness and caring about each other,” Ziert said. “This team has been magical that way.”

Dalton and Legendre worked out on Independence Day morning. Those are the kind of men Williams said he recruits. Those are the kind of men he's made into Olympians.

“There's no secret formula,” Williams said. “If you're going to be good, you gotta work hard.”