Ian Gunther Wins Beach Blast Invitational
Ian Gunther Wins Beach Blast ahead of Dallas Hale and Evan Hymanson
Photo: Ian Gunther - Neutral Deductions/Kensley Behel
Tik-Tok star and four-time National Champion, Ian Gunther, has done more for increasing the visibility of men’s gymnastics than any formal initiative ever has. With over 2 million followers across various social media platforms, a local meet usually filled only by parents was filled to the brim with those seeking a chance to meet Gunther.
As I sat down with Ian during warm-ups, each stretch was interupted by athletes asking for autographs and pictures. They repeated how much they loved his content and when asked how he handles the vast amount of attention he laughed and said, “honestly, this is the first time it’s happened to me.” As he finished his warm-up, he shared that he had been ill and had decided not to pursue qualification to Winter Cup through the Beach Blast Invitational. Instead, he will use the Stanford Open as his qualifying event giving him a few more weeks to get his routines under his belt.
Having only started working full routines on the Wednesday prior to the competiton, there was no telling how his night would go – only that he would have a large crowd rooting for him no matter what. His evening started strong on vault and parallel bars but there was an extra buzz in the crowd when he went to high bar. Part of Gunther's mission is to educate others about men's gymnastics and it shows. Those in the audience weren’t just starstruck by an athlete performing high level gymnastics, but also by a storyteller sharing gymnastics in an engaging and relatable way. They weren’t just here for videos where teammates step in as judges or D1 gymnastics challenges, they have listened as Ian explained his new skill and as he performed it in warm-ups, there was a ripple among the crowd whispering, “that’s his new skill.”
Throughout the competition there were some highlights and some areas for improvement; pommel horse was not particularly kind to Gunther, yet he still won the meet by over a point. He joked that maybe he should have tried to qualify for Winter Cup. Following the end of the competition, hundreds of fans lined the competition floor waiting for their chance for a photo and an autograph. Asked to sign everything from entry bracelets to phone cases, Gunther was one of the last to leave the arena with his family.
Watching the draw Gunther has on men’s gymnastics and contrasting that with the empty stands at major national and international events, it begs the question of whether national governing bodies like USA Gymnastics should leverage athletes' audiences to both their benefit and the benefit of the athletes. Perhaps the solution to the depleted audiences at major national events could be rectified by incentivizing athletes to promote their appearance at the meets. Give each competing athlete a code, and for each ticket sold with that code (i.e. Gunther10), the athlete receives 10% of the sale of their tickets. With the following of men’s stars like Ian Gunther, Khoi Young, Fred Richard, and Michael Jaroh, the stands are sure to see an increase in audience and athletes could benefit financially as well.
Regardless of whether or not this type of strategy can be implemented before the national team selection in February, Ian will continue to work towards earning a qualifying score for the 2024 Winter Cup. The Houston native will train at home for a few days before competing at the Houston National Invitational this coming weekend. It will give him the opportunity for a second tune-up meet before it really counts. Gunther's opportunity to make it back onto the national stage will take place at the Stanford Open in two weeks where he will compete in an arena that he's called home for the last five years.
Article by: Kensley Behel
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