For Glen Ishino, the perfect routine can never happen. However, that has not stopped him from dreaming about it.
“I envision this ridiculous routine with things that I could never do,” says the Cal senior. “The perfect routine at the Olympics, with millions of people watching — that would be cool.”
Ishino will have the chance to attempt that routine over the next three months. His time at Cal and his entire gymnastics career have led up to this point — this summer, he is trying to qualify for the Olympics in London.
When he talks about the Olympics and the competitions that will decide his fate in the next few months, Ishino is surprisingly calm. He has been on the big stage before, competing for the U.S. men’s national team for the past three years.
As he thinks about embarking on this final leg of a journey that has engulfed the last 18 years of his life, his eyes wander, undoubtedly imagining his perfect routine. Excitement, coupled with anxiety, radiates from his voice. He says he is not nervous, but there is a sense of the unknown in the way he talks. The one thing that stays constant is a smile that tries to hide the anticipation that cannot be covered up. His mind is racing as he talks about it.
Anything can happen and Ishino knows it. After a lifetime of work and dedication, there are no promises — just the chance to do what Ishino’s always done best: compete.
Ishino began gymnastics at the age of three, taking “mommy and me” classes to learn tumbling and balance.
“My mom was dealing with four kids, so she was was like ‘Let’s take them all,’” Ishino says. “So we all jumped in the car and we went.”
Ishino looked up to his older siblings. When they had success, he pressured himself to compete with them.
“They were always working hard in the gym. I was like, ‘Cool. I got something to strive for.’”
From that point on, Ishino never stopped. Practices took up more than 20 hours per week, leaving time for little else. At home, the family had a balance beam and a mushroom for the siblings to practice on. Ishino used the mushroom to develop the pommel horse skills that make him one of the few Americans who excels in the event.
Ishino’s motivation paid off as he was recruited to compete for Cal, where he has been a three-time All-American. Even though his focus has shifted largely towards an international career with the Olympics quickly approaching, Ishino’s collegiate experience has guided him to the forefront of the gymnastics world. He is regarded by many as the best American on the pommel horse event and considered one of the country’s best all-around gymnasts. Ishino has worked hard to deserve this recognition.
“The first thought that comes to mind about Glen is that he’s a workhorse,” says Cal head coach Tim McNeil. “He’s not in the position that he’s in because he’s super talented and that paved the way for him.”
That hard work has allowed Ishino to battle through pain and injuries that would have sidelined most of his competitors. He has been recovering from a back injury this season, which has limited him to competing on the pommel horse in hopes of being healthy for the NCAA championships and Olympic qualifiers. Barring further setbacks, McNeil and Ishino both believe that he will be ready to compete at full strength at the NCAA Championships.
Those NCAA Championships will be over by the end of this month. Ishino will then compete at the Visa Championships to qualify for the Olympic trials which will consist of 15 gymnasts competing for only five spots. Ishino holds an advantage because he is best in pommel horse and the United States is generally weakest in that event.
“Being better at pommel horse helps my chances,” Ishino says. “The issue is that I need one or two other strong events that I’m trying to get back into. That would be a lot better.”
His work ethic does not stop at the pommel horse. Nearly an hour after practice ended two weeks ago, Ishino was still up on the still rings practicing while his teammates were eating tacos outside with coach McNeil.
The Bears, a relatively strong all-around team, do not rest on Ishino’s back this year, allowing him to pursue individual training and compete in fewer events in order to stay healthy. Ishino wants to help his team to a national title this year at the NCAA Championship, but he admits that this summer’s competitions are never far from his mind.
“It gets my heart beating and my hands a little sweaty,” he says. “I think about it all the time. I get too into it.”
Listening to Ishino talk about his upcoming competitions is enough to know that it is not about winning a gold medal. For Ishino, it is and always has been about competing and giving it everything he has to give. No matter what happens this summer, Ishino knows that he will be satisfied, confident that he has done everything that he can.
Ishino has prepared as well as any athlete can. But his career and hours in the gym come down to an event where any mistake could ruin everything. There are no second chances. One mistake this summer, anywhere, and Ishino goes home with nothing.
“I’ve given 18 years of my life for a one-minute routine on four events,” he says. “Hit or miss, nobody’s perfect. So just knowing that I’ve done everything that I could would be good enough for me.”